Thursday, May 27, 2021

Review: Second Place

Second Place

Second Place by Rachel Cusk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**This entire review might be a spoiler** 

I read some of this, I put it aside. I'm used to this initial response to Cusk, and usually feel gratified I've gone back to it. I'm not sure I'm feeling that yet about this one, but my feelings could change.

I went to Instagram first and pleaded for people who had already read it to discuss it with me. Before I even finished, I listened to the interview with the reviewer for the New York Times Book Review on the NYTBR Podcast talk about her approach and she let slide that this is all based on Cusk reading this memoir and then imagining that author's experience and then reimagining it into a different landscape and slightly different details and writing it from that perspective... but the reviewer also said that she saw all other reviews mentioning that detail up front, and feeling that the author kept it until the end for a reason. I listened to the author's interview with Michael Silverblatt on the KCRW Bookworm Podcast, where he started with the "spoiler." That's why this whole review is listed as a spoiler - it's hard to talk about with the book without knowing that the author read this obscure memoir about the time D.H. Lawrence came to stay with this artist in Taos. Once you know that, you can really see the author's wheels turning, and this book is the grain or the chaff. Maybe both.

If it's a spoiler, though, it's also the thing that helped me think it through and understand it, even if I still don't really know if I think it worked. It's interesting that she relocated it too. Cusk is someone who was born in Canada, grew up different places, lives in the UK... I think I thought she was American but she might as well be anything. The book is set in a marsh but we don't know which country, so few details are really there. Some read apocalypse narrative into the background but I wasn't sure that was there or if the people have just separated themselves from a sense of daily life. And she writes! with a lot of exclamation points! to someone named Jeffers! who is never explained.

Part of me felt it was the Barefoot Contessa who always is making everything "for Jeffrey" which might come across a bit loony if you didn't know better.

And all along she is dealing with a poor self image, or maybe just aging as a woman when your former power, if you ever had it, starts to wear thing, especially in comparison to the woman the artist brought with him when he came to visit. And her daughter is young 20s, a difficult age for mothers, I think.

I will keep mulling it over. Five-star mulling success, three-star success as a book... for now.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me access through Edelweiss. This came out May 4th, 2021.

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