Second Place

Farrar. May 2021. 192p. ISBN 9780374279226. $25. F
Once again, Cusk (the “Outline” trilogy) delivers a novel so thorny with ideas that every sentence merits a careful reading, yet crafted in language as ringingly clear as fine crystal. Her protagonist is M, a fiftyish woman dwelling contentedly in unidentified marshlands with her solid, devoted husband, Tony; they live off the land and nearby sea while turning over a second house they’ve constructed to visiting artists and writers. Having encountered L’s paintings as a young woman, an experience of deep identification that changed the direction of her life, M is eager to make L a guest. (Cusk wrote the novel in tribute to Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Lorenzo in Taos, which recalls a similar visit D. H. Lawrence made to Luhan in New Mexico.) Though deeply reflective, even cerebral, M is also gushingly guileless, and the reader can tell from their first correspondence that having L visit is not a good idea. Indeed, he arrives with gorgeous young Brett and proceeds to undermine M’s world in escalatingly cruel ways. It’s wrenching reading, yet in the end M has gracefully readjusted her life, as L has not.
VERDICT A gorgeously sculpted story of living and learning; for all readers.
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