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Review-a-Day
The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, January 16th, 2007
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Arlington Park: A Novel

by Rachel Cusk

New Fiction

A review by Christina Schwarz

In this very dark comedy, a sort of Desperate Housewives for the thinking reader, Rachel Cusk eschews her tendency toward the far-fetched, which keeps readers at arm's length from the emotional life of her previous novels. Instead she bores into the real and all-too-recognizable anxieties of an existence driven by "the getting and having" that constitutes modern life for the professional class.

Point of view shifts among five suburban London women. All are affluent; all are mothers of young children; all feel that their expectations for their lives have in some way been betrayed. But Cusk has a keen eye for subtle yet immensely significant social and circumstantial distinctions. The preoccupations of domestic life threaten to overwhelm these women, and Cusk's vision of their resentment over their husbands' freedom to remove themselves from this all-consuming world -- to watch from the shelter of their cars while women, towing small children, struggle "burdened, bedraggled" along the sidewalk -- is dead-on. Children here, in fact, are part of the getting and having, at once essential to their mothers' identities and pure "unvarnished, unmitigated work"; at once the mothers' product and consumer.

Relief from this bleak view comes from the very vigor of Cusk's characters. Each has made a home in this homogenous place, but for a markedly different reason; each is plagued by her own distinct worries; each finds consolation in her own way. They are, in other words, strikingly real people. And then there is Cusk's writing -- so diamond sharp and so lushly metaphorical that even had this substantial book no substance, one would read it happily.

Christina Schwarz is the author of the novels Drowning Ruth and All Is Vanity.


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