Second Place, by Rachel Cusk (FSG)


The urge to find something to liven up the home front is all too understand­able these days. M, the narrator of Rachel Cusk’s Second Place, is a writer stuck at home in the English marshland and waiting out an unspecifie­d catastroph­e. Not so much a patron of the arts as an insinuator into them, M invites a famous painter to come and stay with her. L, the artist, shows up with a girlfriend whom he had failed to mention and little interest in taking inspiratio­n from the company at hand. His aloofness leaves his host to grapple with her own bruised ego and the motivation­s that drove her to seek him out in the first place. As the novel’s endnote makes plain, the story is a reworking of the misadventu­re that took place when American heiress Mabel Dodge Luhan invited D. H. Lawrence to stay with her. In Cusk’s version, a tale of infatuatio­n morphs into an anti–love story, a portrait of a woman forced to pull herself out from under weights of her own devising and set herself free, all the while stuck in place.—

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