Set in a moderately posh suburb of London, acclaimed British novelist Rachel Cusk's Arlington Park
is a captivating exploration of how the simple act of living can become an excruciating exercise in self-deprivation, hypocrisy, and desperation. Set over the course of a single day, the novel follows a group of young mothers who feel both anger at the husbands who seemingly imprisoned them in a world of minivans and coffee klatches, and resignation about the fates they seem destined to fulfill.
While Arlington Park may deal in toddlers and tater tots, it is certainly not another generic Mommy Lit clone. Cusk is a skilled writer, and in her hands, a dreary lunch at the mall food court is transformed into "lost property, but for people." As the day progresses, we watch as Juliet chops her hair off in a small, if meaningless act of rebellion, Amanda stifles a burning desire to scream at a neighbor's kid for ruining her white sofa, Maisie blames her parents for not loving her enough while throwing her daughter's lunchbox at the kitchen wall, and Christine stuffs chicken breasts while silently cursing her husband for spending too much time getting ready for a dinner party. In each scene, the oppressiveness is almost unbearable, prompting readers to practically beg these women to flee as far and as fast as is humanely possible.
Of course, in driving her readers to the edge of frustration and outrage, Cusk succeeds in creating a novel that penetrates deeper than most. Still, after turning the last page, you might find yourself reaching for a little Mommy Lit candy to take the edge off. --Gisele Toueg
From Publishers Weekly
In this devastating ensemble novel, Whitbread Award–winner Cusk (Saving Agnes
) exposes the roiling inner lives and not-so-quiet desperation of young mothers in the well-to-do London suburb Arlington Park. The book's single day begins with an epic rainstorm that wakes part-time private-school English teacher Juliet Randall, who spent the previous evening at a wealthier neighbor's home and was told, in front of husband Benedict, "You want to be careful.... You can start to sound strident at your age." As Amanda Clapp strains to maintain her house's empty perfection, a multi-kid play date gets out of control. Maisie Carrington feels "imprisoned for life" by her frosty, upper-crust childhood, and can barely contain her violent feelings toward her own daughters. Christine Lanham, a newcomer to the class distinction her marriage has brought her, abhors the hypocrisy that surrounds her, but knows she will never leave her family. The story line coils around each woman's home until it gathers the group for a drunken dinner party, where husbands express pleasure with their privilege while fretting that something feels amiss, and children, exhausted by their mothers' alternating neglect and desperate love, sleep like the dead—leaving the women holding hot coals of their silent insights. Their plight is an old story, but Cusk makes it incisively vivid. (Jan.)
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