In this series of interconnected stories with common characters, Rachel Cusk cuts precisely and incisively through the fabric of relationships, the hits and misses of communication and the lost opportunities that plague everyday life. Each new tale offers another configuration of people and events, expectations and disappointments.
A woman, pregnant and incarcerated, has reached her time, the baby ready to burst from her womb. Suddenly the young mother-to-be is devastated, realizing that this pregnancy has given the comfort of distance from her surroundings and the reality of her situation. She yearns to keep the child inside, still part of her.
Mrs. Daley has chosen her daughter, Josephine, as the child to engage in constant battle; clearly she is offended by her daughter’s choices, her pregnancy and unmarried state, her poverty and her lack of cooperation in their adversarial relationship. Having constructed her days around such small dramas, Mrs. Daley thrives, lacking a sense of the fragility of others. Pushing and pulling herself through the years, this is a woman terrified of confronting herself.
Six people, two of them married couples, arrange a getaway, a skiing vacation. To varying degrees, these acquaintances ruminate over the changes wrought by marriage and parenthood. None of the vacationers are particularly close but are strangely out of touch with each other, temporarily sharing a cramped apartment by night, flashing down the icy slopes by day. They are virtual strangers.
How clearly Cusk sees the human condition, how a person can become lost in one's own ego, blithely abandoning the needs of friends, spouses and children in the pursuit of comfort. The author makes no judgments, only observations, juxtaposing people and situations to illustrate the seductive nature of self-deception. No one is particularly ill-intentioned, just busy, overworked and overwhelmed as daily concerns batter down the door, demanding attention.
These particular characters are defined by their interiors, belying the truth of their exteriors. This carefully structured interior world becomes an escape, an end in itself as relationships fragment, replaced by the imaginary. While the male characters are simply defined, Cusk’s females are far more complicated, not terribly kind in their assessment of one another: “Vanessa imagined Serena’s mind to be like the nest of some thieving, clever bird, lined with stolen fragments.”
The Lucky Ones is a book of absence, the emotional vacuum of unconnected lives, with a chill that hangs like a pall over the characters. Reflecting a particular reality, these stories identify people as they truly are, without sentimentality. Although beautifully rendered, I cannot feel these people other than as abstractions, which is, of course, the author’s point.