In Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk makes us voyeurs, peeping into the consciouses and minivans of our most hideous demographic, and we will be forced to stay awhile. She forges a narrative to hang suspended in a blank afternoon in English suburbia. It is laborious and restless and often boring; you are likely to feel burdened by the prospect of accompanying the story’s protagonist-housewives through the motions of daily life.
And while Cusk unravels her thesis in a merciful two-hundred and forty-eight pages, she employs the detail-orientation and resultant time-stretching effect of Ian McEwan (a la Saturday) as well as the tortuous, stream-of-consciousness depressive rambles of the late David Foster Wallace. The first half of Arlington Park - the characters’ morning - takes forever. With every new player introduced we’re praying she’ll be interesting...
or different from the others.
Smack in the middle of the book though: a crumb of inspiration. It's the undoing we’ve been waiting for. The final new character, another assumedly shitty housewife, privately reminisces about her former lodger, our sexy italian Paola. We fall in love with her. She’s beautiful, mysterious, smells good, and she’s left her husband and son behind in Italy, fleeing from the banality of the type we’ve been enduring for the past hundred-or-so pages. And just as she rescues us, she seems to have rescued our (maybe no-longer) shitty woman during the course of her stay. We’ll never quite know, though, because the chapter ends without giving us a peek at the woman’s current situation.
We trudge on through a mindless, anchorless afternoon at a playground in Arlington Park, and then descend into evening. Husbands coming home/getting food into the kids/getting the kids into bed/company coming for eight/dressing & grooming/I look fat/dissatisfaction/cooking/mom's on the phone/passive aggressive domestic dispute/etc. Everyone hates each other, everyone hates them selves, we hate everyone.
After a few glasses of wine, one character seems to find some conclusion in her restlessness... and it appears to be acceptance. Cusk is providing a bitter pill. This character is still pathetic, as are the rest of them – now more than ever. Our apex was illusory, our descent into night proves as monotonous and stiff as our morning ascent towards prospective undoing. We made a mountain out of a molehill.
But returning to McEwan and DFW for a moment, let’s not forget that they’re fucking geniuses (especially DFW). Their excruciating styles give rise to their crafts. From cover to cover, the forms of their words on their pages, the gatherings of these words from the unique subconsciouses of our own minds, create masterpieces set between two covers. These compositions cannot be accurately transferred to film (I’m looking at you, McEwan) or iPod. They are indivisible whole things. In this way, Cusk is probably a genius too. Arlington Park is a boring and shitty place, and we feel boring and shitty reading about it. Cusk captures perfectly the building quiet of a horrible generation of women (and men). We ache with middle-aged angst, hope feverishly for a lesbian affair or character’s sudden explosion to grace the pages of our book.
Freidan, step aside: Cusk may be the voice of our latest generation of dissatisfied, shitty women.