Billed as a novel of "overlapping relationships," Whitbread-winner Cusk's evocative latest, with its tenuously connected sections, feels more like a short story collection linked by theme and a few shared characters. Cusk (The Country Life
; Saving Agnes
) unites her tales via her characters' lonely, isolated conditions and the knotty relationships between parents and children—from Kristy, an imprisoned mother-to-be who gives birth in the back of a squad car in "Confinement," to Mrs. Daley, an unhappy, controlling woman whose need to establish herself as a victim trumps her ability to find or give happiness in "Mrs Daley's Daughter." Cusk's vision of contemporary relationships is a lonely, wintry one, in which people's inner landscapes dominate. This makes for gorgeous, languorous writing in places, but it also restricts the view: the landscapes are so rich with pathos that there isn't always enough room for the range of human emotion so essential to prose that relies on thought instead of action. In "The Sacrifices," a married woman who never had the baby she desired visits her childhood home, now occupied by strangers, and fantasizes about returning to her old room: "I would sit on my bed as the afternoon turned outside the window to night. I would wait for them to call me down." This passivity runs throughout the book, as characters tend toward rumination rather than deed. But as readers come to the end, the lives of Cusk's characters begin to tie together hauntingly. This is not life in all its messy complexity, but a mannered, poignant portrait of the treacheries of domestic life. (Mar. 2)
This is a rather slight offering from Cusk, but the solid U.S. readership she has built will snap it up. Inviting jacket art—a threadbare sofa and wallpaper-like print—won't hurt either.