Arlington Park
Rachel Cusk
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Buy *Arlington Park* by Rachel Cusk online
Arlington Park
Rachel Cusk
256 pages
December 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In Arlington Park, author Rachel Cusk mines the interior lives of five very similar women. In the process, she reveals that the modern family can sometimes be a dangerous place to live in with its shifting allegiances, its flurries of cruelty and virtue, and its great battering waves of mood and mortality.

Thirty-six-year-old Juliet feels as though the sheen is coming off her life; she is deeply unhappy with her confined existence in the small town of Arlington Park. Juliet and Benedict, her husband, have come to Arlington Park because of Benedict's job teaching underprivileged children; if only Juliet could find a place less cramped, less confining, and "open out all the petals packed inside her."

Not far away, Amanda feels similarly naked as she begins to suspect some inadequacy in herself and her husband, James. Lately a feeling of precariousness had been steadily besieging Amanda, and she is torn between the life she's actually living in Arlington Park and her feelings about it. Like Juliet, Amanda is plagued by a type of "sterility of life," as though her heart has no love in it and she has been living a life that is just too ordinary.

On the other hand, Solly seems to have a life that is too full and loaded with "too much fat." Solly and her husband constantly need money, their lives defined by shallow opinions of society’s expectations and the constant urge for material gain. Now pregnant for the fourth time, Solly suddenly feels aerated and overblown, and she doubts whether she can continue on.

Maisie has similar problems; she constantly shouts at her daughter, telling her that she's ruining her life, and she just can't seem to gather together those transitory moments of peace and serenity that she so wishes for. Feeling like a ''boat in a harbor where the tide has gone out," Maisie is persistently frustrated with parenthood.

Full of the "deposits of wasted days," these women go about their lives encumbered with discontent. While some of them visit a large encapsulated shopping mall called Merrywood, finding satisfaction in lunch and shopping, others take the kids to school, go to the hairdressers, and inattentively shop for dinner.

Focusing more on character than plot, Cusk writes of a single day in the lives of these women which culminates in a dinner party held by the boisterous Christine, perhaps the most lively and easily recognizable of the girls. Yet Christine too has been suffering a "retrospective fear of inauthenticity," concerned about her constant vulnerability and her inability to achieve an "authentic life."

Cusk's vision of the seemingly rootless existence of the British suburban middle-class is indeed grim and also deeply metaphorical. As the monstrous "unpeopled palaces of cloud" gather and the rain falls on Arlington Park's empty avenues and well-pruned hedges, the inclement weather seems to equally penetrate these women's dreams as "a sound like the sound of uproarious applause."

Cusk offers up a startling view, though not necessarily a reassuring one. And as the rain continues to fall, chilly, grey and unavailing, "the endless alternation of storm and calm," it almost becomes like a sorrow for these young mothers and wives whose choices seem so limited and whose loves seem to preclude any other possibility or any other shade of feeling, or even being.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2007

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