Home Entertainment Rachel Cusk’s ‘Second Place’ goes to some profoundly insightful places

Rachel Cusk’s ‘Second Place’ goes to some profoundly insightful places


“Second Place” is written as a letter from M to a mysterious “Jeffers,” whose name pops up every page or two. Who’s this Jeffers? Cusk never explains. Yet in an endnote, she mentions her novel “owes a debt” to “Lorenzo in Taos,” a 1932 memoir by art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan, about her stormy time with D.H. Lawrence, who she “willed” to her place in New Mexico. Luhan tells her story to the poet Robinson Jeffers, and Cusk does more than merely mimic Luhan’s style; Luhan had a taciturn Native American husband named Tony, and M’s husband Tony is also taciturn and “dark-skinned.” When Lawrence arrived in New Mexico, Luhan wrote, “Tony is never any help at such a moment, and he just stood there.” And when L arrives at the marsh, Cusk writes, “Tony is never any help in that kind of situation — he just stands there and says nothing.” Cusk even echoes some of Luhan’s best lines. At the end of her book, Luhan tells Jeffers he is “a clear channel,” and that she thinks, after Lawrence brought her “to the happy immolation that has in it no false desire,” she’s become “a clear one, now, too.” And Cusk has M, at the end of her own tale to Jeffers, write, “I hope I have become, or am becoming, a clear channel.”

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