The Bradshaw Variations

I’ve been reading books by Rachel Cusk this summer. I’ve read four of them now, and The Bradshaw Variations (2009) has been the one I can actually say I liked. I enjoyed the other ones (Transit, Outline, and In the Country) and found them interesting, but I really like The Bradshaw Variations. So many characters to get to know! It’s about an extended family, and this family has its dysfunctionalities like all families do (if we’re honest about them). As I read this book, I found myself recognizing certain aspects of human nature… the things you don’t put into words or even thoughts until you see it spelled out in front of you. I love it when that happens!

It was hard for me to choose a quote because all the paragraphs seem so intertwined and connected to all the others, but here’s an example so you can get a taste of her writing style:

Often, on Sundays, Thomas and Tonie find themselves on their way to Laurier Drive, for in spite of the topiary and the Union Jacks drooping on their polished flagpoles, Howard and Claudia’s domain has the magnetism of cultural centrality. Usually, in the car, Tonie complains: she would like their own house to draw and pull the world to itself, or so she thinks. But she is often uneasy and out of sorts when they have visitors. It is this, Thomas supposes, that she is complaining about. She would like to be different, while not understanding precisely what the difference is.

I’m not the only one who wants but doesn’t want visitors in my house! And I also am vaguely aware of complaining about real things outside of myself, when really I know the problem is my own uncomfortable way of dealing with that thing. For example, because my husband is almost always working, people don’t invite us over for dinner. I never really figured out why it’s improper to invite the kids and I without my husband, but apparently it is. Even at potlucks, I sometimes get the suspicion that people wonder how I have the nerve to come without my husband. But anyway, I can feel mildly offended by this, and at the same time relieved. Because it means I don’t have to go to other people’s houses for dinner and try to uphold small talk around the table while attempting to eat the weird food that other people serve.

Thank you, Rachel Cusk, for giving me these moments of self-clarification.


Back and Forth

I read a strange novel called Transit by Rachel Cusk (2017). The woman the book is about is a writer and mother and recently bought a house that needs lots of work. But the story takes place in a series of long conversations the woman has with people she meets. In these conversations we find out about the lives of these other people. This narrative style is disconcerting because it turns the spotlight on these other people and away from the main character. However, the main character does have a problem, and the problem itself seems more menacing because of the backhanded way it is confronted in the book. The main character lives her life forward, but I get the impression she has been hurt too many times and is now only living, stubbornly sticking to her miserable, broken house, and allowing her own flat emotions to slide beneath the much more passionate stories of her friends and acquaintances.

I have heard it is wrong to give up and withdraw from your own life. I have heard we must keep doing the right thing, keep actively loving and drawing nearer to the people God has given us to love. And yet, I see the ease of living in a lower key and allowing other people’s dramas to upstage your own. To cease caring, at least for awhile. The other way, the righter way, is rough and choppy, bouncing back and forth between gaining trust and losing trust in people. That way has the disadvantage of wearing a person out. I can’t entirely assure you that it is better. Will God be glorified if I fall down under the radar, quit trying so hard to live the right way, just let life slide a little from under my feet? That sounds so shifty and criminal, but maybe it’s just… rest.