The Lucky Ones is composed of five connected novellas whose larger story, if we feel the need to find one, becomes quickly swept under the carpet of Cusk’s thematic project. These novellas are only loosely joined by event, instead there bubbles up from inside each an emotional motif that binds them together much tighter than any mere plot point could manage on its own. In its broadest sense, Cusk is exploring the transformative properties of parenthood – the psychic impact of what it means to understand life as a gift fashioned from the parental body. But she also moves beyond that to how this understanding affects all previous relationships, notably between the mother and the father.Through five individuals in five different situations, Cusk explores parenthood and marriage from varying angles: Kirsty, pregnant in prison and so wedded to the symbiotic relationship between herself and her fetus that she literally refuses to admit she’s going into labor; Martin, whose new parenthood is stunted because of his wife’s depression, her unwillingness to bond with the baby, and also because of the residual bitterness of pre-pregnancy marital problems that did not miraculously vanish when they decided to have a child; the nameless narrator of the third novella chooses not to have children until its too late, until she’s with a man who already has one child and doesn’t want another now that she finally does; Mrs Daley, nursing a dangerously buried anger at having to accept the confining role of housewife and mother put upon her as a young woman, hers is a deep-seated rage that removes any possibility of a relationship with her own daughter; and finally, Vanessa, young and terribly afraid that all the love she had previously channeled to her husband has been shifted in full onto her children.
These five riveting stories reveal the fascinating depth of Cusk’s inquiry into the idea of personal freedom in relationship to parenting – what does freedom mean, is it a reward or a right, is it a bargaining chip between a man and a woman? And how does our identity change through motherhood? How does our spousal relationship change through parenthood? Cusk explores these questions with a piercing, and a sometimes unsettling, insight.
The sky, having shed its burden of snow, was pale and effaced. Everything was quiet. Vanessa stood on the muffled lane and wondered whether she was dreaming; the white, noiseless landscape seemed like the landscape of her own mind. Some acknowledgement of her appeared to lie in this fact, the acknowledgement of a mysterious authority. It expressed the view, this authority, that nature had been affronted in the person of Vanessa, and that its wrath would be generous. It interested her, the idea that a wound to the heart could bring forth an effusion of beauty, ice-cold, ravishing, melting in the hand; that she could be pierced to the core and merely reveal deeper and deeper reserves of graciousness.
Just a final word on the writing – of any of the fiction I have read recently, Cusk wrote in a style that I can only describe as both classic and original. I was reminded of both Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing – complicated and wordy prose but still quite emotional at its core. I enjoyed Cusk’s ability to grind down a moment or a thought to its bare and knotty details. The word by word level of her writing is just fantastic and I found myself rereading passages just for the sheer enjoyment of the sentence.