‘Transit’ by Rachel Cusk (2016) – 260 pages
‘Transit’ is almost entirely made up of the life stories that other people tell our narrator, Faye. Instead of getting Faye’s story, we mainly get those of the people around her who tell stories from their lives to her in casual conversations.
I see this as a strategic retreat on our narrator Faye’s part. She is going through a divorce, and this might be a good time to listen to what the people around her are saying about their own situations rather than dwelling on her own plight. Perhaps she wants to re-establish her bond with others by listening to them.
First there is old boyfriend Gerard who is now happily married with a family and still living in the old neighborhood to which Faye is returning. There are two ways that a writer can approach dialogue. In one approach, to be entirely natural and realistic, the writer can have his or her characters speak exactly like real people speak which means they would rarely say anything clever or witty. In the other approach, the writer has his or her characters speak in witty sparkling epigrams, constantly saying the perfect thing. Rachel Cusk favors the second approach, and I admire her for it. Here is a line from Gerard.
“It’s hard not to become self-satisfied,” he said, “with so much self-satisfaction around you.”
Later Faye responds to Gerard as follows:
“I said that it seemed to me that most marriages worked in the same way that stories are said to do, through the suspension of disbelief. It wasn’t, in other words, perfection that sustained them so much as the avoidance of certain realities.”
We do find out a few things about Faye as she interacts with the people around her. She has two children and is going through a divorce. Her children are staying with her ex while her apartment is being remodeled. She has a terrible obnoxious couple living below her which is one of the novel’s sources of humor. She teaches creative writing. She has started dating again.
But mainly we find out other people’s stories. The guys who are remodeling her apartment are two brothers from Poland, Pavel and Tony, who are making a go of it in England. We accompany Faye to her hairdresser and to a literary conference where she is one of the guest speakers. We learn quite a bit about the other two writers who are guest speakers but not so much about Faye.
Even though Faye is the central figure in ‘Transit’, most of the stories are related to her by the people she meets. There is essentially no conventional plot and little character development. Rachel Cusk is on the cutting edge of writers attempting to take the novel to somewhere new and different from its traditional roots. She has a talent for writing eloquent and expressive sentences that many experimental novelists do not have. I have followed Cusk’s writing from the beginning of her career and am happy to continue to do so.