- The Lucky Ones
In the fifth of five linked short stories that make up Rachel Cusk's fourth novel, The Lucky Ones, Vanessa, [End Page 191] a stay-at-home mom who prefers her role as mother to her role as wife, says, "I'm more than equal. I'm the lucky one." This declaration comes in the middle of a conversation about whether feminism can exist in a family, and is perhaps the most overt statement of what's going on under the surface for most of Cusk's characters. They're all thinking about where they are in life, judging whether the grass is greener underfoot or across the way. Most of the characters' contemplation has to do with the roles they play as mother, father, daughter, sister, husband, wife: roles that exist for them because they participate in family life.
A delight in the novel is that each of the stories is told from the perspective of a different character. In the first story, "Confinement," Cusk takes the reader inside a women's prison, where Kirsty, who has been charged with murder, is nine months pregnant. On top of her own considerable problems, she must deal with her mother's refusal to talk to her and with a cellmate who enjoys their prison situation. The second story, "The Way You Do It," is told from a male point of view; it follows Martin, whose wife just delivered their first baby, on a week away from home, skiing with friends and acquaintances. In "The Sacrifices," the only first-person story in the book, Cusk shows us a middle-aged woman taking inventory of her life as a twin, a daughter, a lover and a childless woman. The fourth story, "Mrs. Daley's Daughter"—the greatest accomplishment in a very accomplished novel—chronicles the disruption that ensues when a woman returns to her parents' house with a new baby and postpartum depression. The reader sees the situation unfold through Mrs. Daley's eyes, a smart narrative choice by Cusk. And in the last story, "Matters of Life and Death," Cusk presents Vanessa, the stay-at-home mom quoted earlier, who's dealing with a sexist, out-of-work husband and who befriends Serena, a feminist newspaper columnist.
While each of these stories is a satisfying read on its own, when read together, in order, the stories give in many more ways. It's fun charting the paths of Cusk's characters, who often appear in one another's stories, offering insightful information about other characters who have yet to take the stage. And considering the theme Cusk has taken on—the various roles and stresses of family life—the fragmented telling makes sense, echoing the constant breaking apart, diminishing, reforming, growing, of life in a family.
When you sit down to read Cusk, you should expect to be bowled over by her similes. They abound on almost every page, and in practically every case they work. In one story she gives us a man fallen over in the yard, who looks "like the body of a rabbit our cat had recently laid reverently on the doorstep." In another, a busy restaurant "rocked like the hull of a ship with the loud voices and ruddy faces of skiers." In "Mrs. Daley's Daughter," Mrs. Daley thinks about the relationship she envisions having with her children and grandchildren: "she liked to see her children tied down by their children; she had a sense of it all as a great tapestry being embroidered away into the future." Similarly, The Lucky Ones can [End Page 192] be compared to a tapestry that, once started in the reader's mind, continues to grow.