three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
By: 
Rachel Cusk
user_rating: 
0

A-LuckyOnesHow do wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, endure the darkest times of their family bonds? In five loosely connected stories, The Lucky Ones explores the moments that no one talks about—the angst-ridden hours that dwell on the underside of commitment, responsibility, and love. An imprisoned woman on the verge of giving birth, a vacationing father escaping from his wife and newborn, a grandmother reliving the confinement of motherhood in the 1950s, and a young mother flailing among the demands of toddlers and her husband’s estrangement—all create indelible images of people struggling to define their needs amid overwhelming familial obligations.
Fourth Estate. 228 pages. $24.95.

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Cusk is a writer of great psychological acuity, and her capacity for imagining her way into her characters’ minds is matched by her skill as a stylist. Artfully conceived and strongly executed, The Lucky Ones is a powerful and original work." Merle Rubin

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he beauty of the novel lies not in its insight into the everyday struggles of marriage and parenthood but in a quiet reverence for the ordinariness of life—particularly motherhood—that is both refreshing and wonderfully understated." Jennie A. Camp

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel, frankly, may make you rethink marriage and childbearing. … Her voice, young and pensive, whips out insights packed with a punch—straight to the point and without warning." Renée Warner

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Cusk has a gift for articulating fluid, unsettling emotions just beneath the surface of consciousness, and while she spends a little too much time in her characters’ heads, what interesting heads they are." Jennifer Reese

Baltimore Sun 2.5 of 5 Stars
"As a whole, these stories present a painfully bleak picture of parenthood, one that risks offending readers uncomfortable—or unfamiliar—with its darker side. But Cusk writes well, making it difficult to abandon this troubling little book." Molly Knight

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"At its best, as in the final two chapters, ‘Mrs. Daley’s Daughter’ and ‘Matters of Life and Death,’ its complex depiction of characters trapped in lives of quiet desperation evokes the stunning bleakness of Evan Connell’s Mrs. Bridge and Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. … [But] Cusk manages to limn complex emotions in a format that is not altogether coherent." Heller McAlpin

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"The Lucky Ones feels more like an exercise, if one on a very high plane; in time, it will probably seem like a way station in Cusk’s career. … In forsaking her humor Cusk has forsaken the best part of herself..." Craig Seligman

Critical Summary

Cusk, winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award for Saving Agnes, was listed last year as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. The Lucky Ones, despite its billing, isn’t a novel. Reviewers agree that the connections linking the stories in The Lucky Ones are tenuous. Still, each attests to Cusk’s command of the short story. Cusk is at her best when she’s describing tumultuous emotions. Her scrupulous honesty often conveys an unappealing, if not repellent picture of parenthood; others disagree, pointing out the haunting beauty of a no-holds-barred examination of families on the edge.

Supplemental Reading

A-LifesWork.epsA Life’s Work On Becoming a Mother | Rachel Cusk (2003): Cusk is clearly mining a vein—last year’s memoir captured the frustration (and happiness) that comes with life as a first-time mother. Potential parents will recoil in horror, while mothers and fathers will recognize the familiar.