Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Outline by Rachel Cusk

It's not often you read a book written in a style you're unfamiliar with, but "Outline" was a new experience for me. It's not really a novel, and it's not really short stories. I suppose you could call the chapters "conversations," since each focuses on an interaction between the narrator and another person, or group of people. But that's not really accurate, since the conversations aren't traditional conversations. They're more like summaries, with the narrator sometimes slipping between tenses.

Cusk breaks a lot of rules, but she's breaking them intentionally and carefully. Her powers of description are excellent, and the conversations are mostly interesting. But it's not the kind of book that draws you in emotionally. Part of that is the style, since she's created an emotional distance between you and the characters. But part of it is because no one's really that appealing. Every character has something or many things that make them hard to like. Clearly, she's doing this on purpose, and that allows her to create very realistic characters. But when you dig beneath the veneer of most real people, you find things you wish you didn't know, and that's exactly what happens in "Outline." The characters seem like real people you wish you didn't have to interact with .

So if you'd like to read very thoughtful, deep conversations between vaguely unlikeable people, with beautiful descriptions of where they are, you're in luck!