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Book Review: Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation by Rachel Cusk

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Rachel Cusk fans will no doubt welcome this latest addition to the Cusk canon, but anyone looking for a tell-all about the unseemly underbelly of marriage had better look elsewhere. Cusk is better than that: her book is a meditation.

There is no pat explanation as to why her marriage turned into a separation, but it apparently had something to do with role reversal problems or, as she puts it, “We were two transvestities,” – that is, she and her husband changed clothes and roles. She wore the pants and he was the stay-at-home “mom.” Now and then a glimmer of her old humor does shine through the pain.

On the day her husband leaves, Cusk dwells obsessively on her visit to the dentist’s office. She’s not avoiding the obvious, though: she’s really grappling with pain and the notion of extraction (both molars and mates) on an allegorical level. And that is what makes her prose a kind of poetry, and often astonishingly beautiful. She doesn’t have to describe in lurid detail the breakdown of the marriage; when her husband leaves, the hall is like “an opened tomb,” – and that says it all.

As the book progresses, Rachel Cusk herself deteriorates. She gets thinner, can’t eat. She goes to a therapist and feels like she’s going to a brothel, paying for what should be free. Her attempts to communicate are constantly and frustratingly truncated with the analyst’s clipped, “We have to stop now.”

The memoir gradually transmutes into a novel, as by the end, we lose the first-person narrator and are seeing Cusk through another person’s eyes. It is almost as if Rachel Cusk has lost her self and her center – and that is what happens in a separation.

An aftermath, she tells us, is a kind of second sowing. I, myself, hope that, as a result of this transfiguring experience, more will be sown by this superb author.

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About Jeanne Farewell

Jeanne Farewell is the author of the short story collection Nantucket Snow, and two novels, Old Rye and In the Lighthouse. Her stories, essays, and book reviews have been published in a variety of literary magazines and on the web. She is also a pianist who has performed in the US, Europe, UK, and China.
  • I enjoyed the article about the book. Hopefully, when she recovers she doesn’t turn her desires on the proverbial “bad boy”
    since the role reversal thing did not work out. I have some keen insights on what a woman may do in this chapter in her life.
    Check out my posts on “Bad Boys” check out!
    Laura Phillips

  • Things could get bizarre if she doesn’t grasp hold of her feelings at this point in time

  • I watched your video. That’s great that you are exploring this all-too-prevalent problem. Let’s hope that R.C. finds happiness in a productive and mutually supportive relationship.