Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

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.

4 Responses to “Davis and Cusk”

  1. Anthony

    I keep dithering about Rachel Cusk’s work, unsure that it is altogether my sort of thing. Would Outline be a good starting point, Michelle? I should read the Davis again too.

  2. Michelle

    It’s really hard for me to answer that question, Anthony. I discovered Cusk maybe eight or nine years ago and read her novel (a novel-in-stories), The Lucky Ones. I really loved it. And then I read her Arlington Park and got impatient and frustrated with something she did in that book (I think now that I’d like to re-read it as I suspect I wasn’t ready yet for what she was writing about). I’ve now read Outline and Aftermath, and really really enjoyed both. There is a kind of brutal honesty in all of her writing that I really admire. I feel that her style has grown more spare and I enjoyed that in both Outline and Aftermath.

  3. Carole Besharah

    “the endless dizzy spiraling of subjectivity” Well said.

  4. oneblacktree

    When books start speaking to each other – that’s a lovely way to put it. I’ve just come across your site and am so enjoying reading through your posts. Lydia Davis is wonderful, and I am making a list of books/writers you’ve mentioned that I have not yet read – starting with Ann Carson. Thanks for the inspiration!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: