Fiction: Rachel Cusk’s “Second Place” Criticism

Rachel cusk The “Outline” novel trilogy paved the way for what might be considered the anti-confessional mode. Although centered around a writer named Faye, the chapters of these books are occupied by the stories of his acquaintances. Faye hardly says or gives anything, realizing through what Ms. Cusk calls the “power of silence” a formidable narrative authority – that of the wizard or puppeteer who coerces others into exposure to dangerous work.

His latest novel, “Second place” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 183 pages, $ 25), is a reverse-negative of the “Outline” books, as narrated by a middle-aged woman, known as “M”, who is under the sway of a wizard-like artist, in this case an aging painter called “L.” M lives on a quaint property on a coastal swamp – the setting is unnamed and a bit fable – where she and her husband Tony have built a guesthouse. M had seen his life transformed by L’s paintings many years earlier, and he eventually accepted his repeated invitations to stay and work in his “second place,” arriving in greatly reduced circumstances due to a national disaster. not specified.

L’s cheeky young companion, Brett, and M’s impressionable daughter and son-in-law, Justine and Kurt, are also locked away on the secluded property. Factions are formed, disintegrated and reconstituted along different axes. But the novel’s electric charge comes from the asymmetrical relationship between L and M. L’s artistic genius is linked, like that of Satan, to his claims to absolute freedom. He is a man “without any fiber of morality or duty” who creates his own “unreality” and despises anyone who reaches him in the collective real world, even if it means providing him with food and board. He needs M and must also make her become his nemesis. M, meanwhile, desperately seeks some sort of vicarious transcendence, a outlook on life that is more powerful than what she’s found in her conventional roles as wife and mother, so she becomes an unstable co-conspirator. in L. destruction’s humiliation and humiliation program.

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Ms. Cusk notes that these characters are loosely modeled on DH Lawrence and his wealthy boss in Taos, N, M., Mabel Dodge Luhan, and knowing these characters can demystify the weirder aspects of “Second Place”, especially the numerous references from M to an unexplained interlocutor named Jeffers, an allusion to the poet Robinson Jeffers. Yet a strong sense of estrangement is crucial in Ms. Cusk’s fictions. The writing, so accentuated and epigrammatic, almost seems to mock the house fashions of traditional realistic prose. Her beauties are scintillating and reflected like a razor’s edge: artistic truth, in her books, is always a wild thing. “What I could not understand,” laments M, “is how the mere revelation of personal truth could lead to so much suffering and cruelty, when it was surely morally harmless to seek to live in such a state. of truth. “

The pathetic note in this quote is a vital new ingredient in Ms. Cusk’s fiction, which undermines her own ability for tyrannical narrative control. The “Outline” novels are works of pure icy mastery, but the voice here – loving, bitter, passionate – is striking in its volatility. If M is accorded little mercy – and the basic truth in Ms. Cusk’s fiction is that there is no pity for anyone – there is something like brotherly sympathy for her upbringing in the ruthless nature of life.

Amoral artist stands at Chris Power’s center “A Lonely Man” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 304 pages, $ 27), in which a novelist steals the story of an acquaintance without haggling over the consequences of the theft. While grappling with writer’s block, Robert Prowe, an Englishman living with his wife and daughters in Berlin, meets an enigmatic loner named Patrick Unsworth, who believes he is being hunted down by assassins working for Vladimir Poutine. Patrick had been hired as a ghostwriter for an exiled Russian oligarch who threatened to expose Putin’s corruption and ended up dead, allegedly by suicide. Robert finds Patrick’s paranoia ridiculous but his experiences invaluable and, feigning friendship, he traces the history of the man with the oligarch for details which he reshapes into a salable manuscript.

Unlike Mrs. Cusk’s stubborn L, Robert is a divided figure who alternates between the “stacked realities” of a devoted family man and a double agent undertaking sustained deception. He too is galvanized by the illusion of narrative authority: Patrick’s “ignorance” makes Robert “feel empowered, as if he had the other man under his control.” Mr. Power allows him to dwell in this illusion for a long time, gently mixing mundane everyday events with Robert’s fictionalized interpretations of Patrick’s revelations. But gradually, the “Square thing” that Robert saw as simply squeezed material from the edges, and a story that seemed slightly thin and diffused abruptly consolidates for a paying ending that kills.

Destruction is imminent in Kit Fan’s “Diamond Hill” (world editions, 300 pages, $ 16.99), taking place in Hong Kong in 1987, 10 years before the handover to China. The area of ​​Diamond Hill, the former “Hollywood of the Orient” where Bruce Lee’s films were shot and since then a drug-ravaged slum, is doomed for demolition as developers work hand in hand with an organized crime syndicate plan to profit from the construction of luxury apartments. The narrator, nicknamed Buddha, is a recovered heroin addict who has been housed in a local convent, but although this naturally associates him with the nuns, he finds a second home on the street, befriends a starlet turned prostitute, and his intrepid teenage daughter, who has been the Mafia’s resource person for drug trafficking since she was a child.

Oscillating between the austerity of the convent and the misery of the slum, Mr. Fan paints a textured and unstable portrait of a territory facing a decisive end. The ethical conflict lies in whether to exploit the inevitable destruction – “Social cleansing is the only way to save Diamond Hill from moral filth,” nun claims – or engage in small acts of salvation doomed to failure. The dark drama that unfolds is an elegy to this endangered world.

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