Two of the books I’m reading (or rather, one I just finished and one I’ve almost finished) have suddenly started speaking to each other. I so love when this happens.
I read Rachel Cusk’s Outline last week, and am just about to finish Lydia Davis’s The End of the Story. On the surface they could not be more different—in both style and approach, but I realized today that they are circling in their different ways around the same question of the subjectivity of narrative. Cusk does this by removing the self entirely from her project.
The book has a nearly completely effaced narrator who absorbs the stories of everyone else around her. One after another, the reader experiences the narrator’s disappearance beneath someone else’s narrative, only to surface briefly and then do the same thing again. But in its strange way the book keeps opening up, again and again, this question of how we narrate the self, how the self adjusts and transforms memory.
And in The End of the Story Davis does this from the opposite direction, by sticking extremely close to the narrator, allowing her to tell and re-tell events from all possible angles. This narrator doesn’t ever disappear, and she’s so interested in the impossibility of her own disappearance within the framework of the narrated self that she arrives around to the same set of questions.
Both books give a sense of vertigo—the endless dizzy spiraling of subjectivity— but with such very different prose styles. They make for a wonderful comparison and I’d like to read the two books all over again.