April 11th, 2018

book talk // transit.

Rachel Cusk’s Transit picks up the thread where Outline left off. Outline told the story of a woman, Faye, teaching a creative writing class in Greece, post-divorce; Transit roots itself more in reality and less in that dream-like vacation mindset. There are no yachts or plane rides or fabulous dinner venues, only the “trolls” downstairs who complain about her home renovations. I’d say, overall, the setting is far more domestic.

The novel begins: “An astrologer emailed me to say she had important new for me concerning events in my immediate future. She could see things that I could not; my personal details had come into her possession and had allowed her to study the planets for their information. She wished me to know that a major transit was due to occur shortly in my sky. This information was causing her great excitement when she considered the changes it might represent. For a small fee she would share it with me and enable me to turn it to my advantage.”

I read this opening section out loud to my partner, thrilled with the dry wit and the narrator’s voice before I had even turned the first page. How could anyone not want to read this book?

From the outset, it’s clear that Cusk intends to speak to the theme of fate, of life’s various intersections, the transit of the soul. Faye, although she seeks to be free of life’s constructs, still finds herself in very traditional situations. She is a mother. She is a divorcee. She is a home-owner. She has returned to a place she left behind. But the whole story is nontraditional, pieced together, a state of transition. Most obviously, Faye is renovating her house and all around her exists the physical debris of change. The renovation is not yet complete at the end of the book (which makes sense, considering there is a third still to come) and we are left with the feeling that in Outline she was a mere sketch, drifting about, not fully realized, whereas in Transit she is gaining a sense of herself and beginning the chrysalis process.

“I said that my current feelings of powerlessness had changed the way I looked at what happens and why, to the extent that I was beginning to see what other people called fate in the unfolding of events, as though living were merely an act of reading to find out what happens next. That idea — of one’s own life as something that had already been dictated — was strangely seductive, until you realized that it reduced other people to the moral status of characters and camouflaged their capacity to destroy. Yet the illusion of meaning recurred, much as you tried to resist it: like childhood, I said, which we treat as an explanatory text rather than merely as a formative experience of powerlessness.”

The structure is brilliant. Set up in a series of vignettes with no true connection to the future or the past, simply an observation made in the moment, you could probably open the book anywhere and enjoy it. Each anecdote almost impersonally transcribes deep conversations, sometimes with people the narrator barely knows. There is the thinnest veneer of a plot which weaves the story together, but it’s an undercurrent, not the focus.

This is a novel that I would hesitate to recommend, or would recommend with the caveat that it’s “not for everyone.” But, Transit appeals to me, personally, because in a novel comprised of conversations there exists the absence of small talk. There is no, “what do you do for a living?” This lack of pleasantries, the onset of intimacy, alarms people in reality. In the book, it almost seems commonplace. In my own conversations, I very rarely want to discuss the weather, but I will gladly tell you all of the thoughts weighing heavily upon my heart and soul. In this way, Cusk speaks very clearly to me, and I found myself frantically underlining passage after passage. I am truly anticipating the third and final book in this sort-of-a-trilogy.

Rating: 5/5
Recommended for: people who liked Outline or novels that aren’t really novels in trilogies that aren’t really trilogies.

(Read my review of Outline)