three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
By: 
Rachel Cusk
user_rating: 
0

A-Arlington ParkAll is not well in Rachel Cusk’s upper-class, London suburb. While the husbands remain complacent with their material success, the wives manage their husbands and kids, care for their homes, make it to work (some, at least)—and question the morality of their existence. Taking place over the course of a single, rainy day, Arlington Park delves deep inside these young mothers’ unfulfilled lives. Juliet, boiling over with anger, views all men as murderers of women; Amanda, despite her perfect house, feels totally inadequate; Maisie resents her children. Meanwhile, Christine, from working-class roots, spends the day preparing for a dinner party. Despite Arlington Park’s placid finish, its women live imperfect, ordinary, even desperate lives.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 256 pages. $23. ISBN: 0374100802

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In the progression of an ordinary day, there is a sense of great activity but little forward movement. … Arlington Park is a remarkable, though quiet, work. Cusk illuminates ordinary lives, presumably the kind of lives that most of us lead." Robin Vidimos

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Given the precedents, I think it is inevitable that we take these lives to typify a certain sort of English life in the early 21st century, and, if we are to believe Cusk, the news is not good. … Cusk’s glory is her style, cold and hard and devastatingly specific, empathetic but not sympathetic." Jane Smiley

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"What makes the book brilliant is Cusk’s fearlessness about her subject matter: The way these women pass the hours could be seen as dull or depressing or petty. … Cusk’s most pointed reference is found in the brassy, bossy person of Christine, who, like Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, is spending her day getting ready for a dinner party she’s hosting that evening." Claire Dederer

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Is it a beautifully written book? Yes. Is it an angry book? Yes. … The strength of Arlington Park is that while depicting the sadness of these very human and likable mothers, Cusk doesn’t patronize or pity them." Vendela Vida

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"No one is better than Cusk at giving form to the murky, emotional complexity of motherhood… In Arlington Park, bastion of privilege, children are routinely ignored, shouted at and manhandled. Family life, Cusk knows, is a tumultuous proposition." Tricia Springstubb

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
" The microscopic detail of daily life offered here could be excruciating for some readers, but for anyone who enjoys an original and imaginative writing style and wry observations of the way people live, it’s well worth the read." Jessica Slater

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"Cusk’s many female characters are far too similar, and you wish she’d stuck with one. … The book eventually becomes one long postpartum gripe, though neither humane nor funny enough to be enjoyable as social satire." Lucy Ellmann

Critical Summary

Few modern writers portray class anxiety and domestic discontent better than Rachel Cusk (Saving Agnes; A Life’s Work 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2002; In the Fold 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2006). The premise of Arlington Park—surviving a single day of 21st-century suburban life, where minutes pass by meaninglessly—is nothing new. Critics agree, however, that Cusk’s sharp, candid eye almost perfectly captures the frustration and ennui often associated with motherhood and wifehood. Rather than mocking her characters, Cusk takes seriously their failures to forge meaningful connections (outside of clothes, food, and décor), but she writes with a beautiful wit and a light touch. While Arlington Park explores a depressing subject, it’s an enlightening read, even as it offers an all-too-realistic portrait of suburban life.

An Inspiration

Mrs. Dalloway | Virginia Woolf (1925): As Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a party she is hosting one evening in post–World War I England, nothing, yet everything—including disturbing memories and regrets—happens.