(Reviewed by Poornima Apte FEB 21, 2007)
Even as one reads the precisely observed nuggets of suburban life that make up Arlington Park, one starts to worry. Could this book be classified as “Mommy Lit?” and shoved aside? For that would be a pity because Arlington Park is chock full of a quality vital for good fiction -- empathy. Author Rachel Cusk navigates the everyday trials of motherhood by following her five characters -- Juliet, Maisie, Christine, Solly and Amanda, through the course of one rainy day in a leafy suburb outside of London.
Even though the novel is set in England, the lives these women lead are all too familiar. There’s Juliet who suspects she has compromised her career to maintain her husband’s. “She had never expected to find herself here, where women drank coffee all day and pushed prams around the grey, orderly streets, and men went to work, went there and never came back, like there was a war on,” Cusk writes of Juliet.
Then there’s Amanda who worries why she isn’t even included in the coffee circuit in the first place. “She had asked people back for coffee before, but it always seemed that her invitation to Western Gardens had the effect of reminding them how much else they had to do; that her suggestion of coffee spoke to them reprovingly of all the other coffees, awoke in their consciences a shamed awareness of how much time they had spent drinking coffee when they might have been doing something more productive.” A “That’s Me!” moment, anyone?
Arlington Park unfolds like a documentary with the reader peeking into the characters’ lives. If that feels like a letdown, Cusk makes up for it more than amply with her sharp observations about suburban life in general and motherhood in particular. “People of the Milfords’ sort preferred to think of the Randalls as non-materialistic, a condition they seemed to regard as being in some way irresponsible, as though materialism were an aged parent they liked to rail about while believing themselves bound to it by chains of honor and duty,” Cusk observes of one of the families in Arlington Park.
In the end, Cusk’s novel manages to be vaguely unsettling because, like it or not, there is at least one part of one of these women‘s lives that most suburban (or urban) mothers have lived. Arlington Park is in essence, Plainville, USA. It’s a place where even a television is a character with a “large pacific eye” that unblinkingly enfolds its viewers into the “sky-blue bordered depths of children’s programming.“ The most violence one encounters in this suburb is Maisie throwing her daughter’s sandwich against the kitchen wall. But as Rachel Cusk points out, that might be precisely the point: You don’t need violence -- the day-to-day minutiae are stifling enough.
- Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Arlington Park at The New York Times
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Saving Agnes (1993)
- The Temporary (1995)
- The Country Life (1997)
- The Lucky Ones (2003)
- In the Fold (2005)
- Arlington Park (2006; January 2007 in US)
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- British Council page on Rachel Cusk
- The Daily Mail article on Rachel Cusk
- Guardian article by Rachel Cusk
- LiteraryMama review of A Life's Work and The Lucky Ones
- PopMatters review of The Lucky Ones
- Guardian Unlimited review of In the Fold
- New York Times review of Arlington Park
- NY Sun review of Arlington Park
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About the Author:
Rachel Cusk was born in Canada in 1967 and spent much of her childhood in Los Angeles before finishing her education at a convent school in England. She read English at New College, Oxford, and has travelled extensively in Spain and Central America.
In 2003 Rachel Cusk was nominated by Granta magazine as one of 20 Best of Young British Novelists. Saving Agnes won the 1993 Whitbread First Novel, and The Lucky Ones shortlisted for the 2003 Whitbread. The Country Life wond the Somerset Maugham Award in 1997. In the Fold was selected for the Man Booker Prize longlist.
Rachel, her husband, Adrian Clarke and their three children live in Somerset, England.