The Lucky Ones

Overview

A young pregnant mother wrestles with an utterly changed life; a new father searches for a sign of the man he used to be; a daughter yearns for a lost childhood; and a mother reaches out in bewilderment to a child she can't fully understand. A rare novel that illuminates "the bustling concourses of life" without sacrificing emotional depth and complexity, The Lucky Ones confirms Rachel Cusk's place among our most incisive writers.

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Overview

A young pregnant mother wrestles with an utterly changed life; a new father searches for a sign of the man he used to be; a daughter yearns for a lost childhood; and a mother reaches out in bewilderment to a child she can't fully understand. A rare novel that illuminates "the bustling concourses of life" without sacrificing emotional depth and complexity, The Lucky Ones confirms Rachel Cusk's place among our most incisive writers.

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Editorial Reviews

Irish Independent
“A lovely book.”
Booklist
“Insightful…perceptively drawn…poignant, evocative and meant to be savored.”
Boston Globe
“Subtle and satisfying...a brilliant collection.”
The New Yorker
“Witty and topical…a fresh and compassionate portrait.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Cusk has a gift for articulating fluid, unsettling emotions just beneath the surface of consciousness.”
People
“[Cusk’s] intelligence and emotional honesty give a sense of having experienced, rather than read, this book…extraordinary.”
Marie Claire (UK)
“Impressively written.”
Independent on Sunday
“Sharp observation of character, vivid imagistic descriptions.”
Independent Magazine
“You want to gasp with the shock of recognition at a rarely articulated thought delivered with a visceral punch.”
Daily Mail (London)
“If great fiction puts into words something about ourselves that we didn’t know we knew, this is it.”
People Magazine
"[Cusk’s] intelligence and emotional honesty give a sense of having experienced, rather than read, this book…extraordinary."
People
“[Cusk’s] intelligence and emotional honesty give a sense of having experienced, rather than read, this book…extraordinary.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Cusk has a gift for articulating fluid, unsettling emotions just beneath the surface of consciousness.”
People
“[Cusk’s] intelligence and emotional honesty give a sense of having experienced, rather than read, this book…extraordinary.”
Booklist
“Insightful…perceptively drawn…poignant, evocative and meant to be savored.”
The New Yorker
“Witty and topical…a fresh and compassionate portrait.”
Boston Globe
“Subtle and satisfying...a brilliant collection.”
Independent on Sunday
“Sharp observation of character, vivid imagistic descriptions.”
Independent Magazine
“You want to gasp with the shock of recognition at a rarely articulated thought delivered with a visceral punch.”
Daily Mail (London)
“If great fiction puts into words something about ourselves that we didn’t know we knew, this is it.”
Irish Independent
“A lovely book.”
Marie Claire (UK)
“Impressively written.”
The New Yorker
The women in these five linked vignettes are all connected to a journalist named Serena Porter, either personally or as readers of the weekly column she writes about her family life. While they struggle to understand their painful and awkward responses to lovers and children, she spins the raw material of motherhood and marriage into witty and topical dispatches. Of course, much of what Serena writes is factitious, both in its details (she freely appropriates an acquaintance’s experience as her own) and in the breezy complacency that it projects; Cusk seems to suggest that our true thoughts about love and family defy articulation. Such is her gift for capturing women’s psychology and their sense of their place in the world that the novel achieves what Serena’s column cannot: a fresh and compassionate portrait of a generation’s feelings about motherhood.
Publishers Weekly
Billed as a novel of "overlapping relationships," Whitbread-winner Cusk's evocative latest, with its tenuously connected sections, feels more like a short story collection linked by theme and a few shared characters. Cusk (The Country Life; Saving Agnes) unites her tales via her characters' lonely, isolated conditions and the knotty relationships between parents and children-from Kristy, an imprisoned mother-to-be who gives birth in the back of a squad car in "Confinement," to Mrs. Daley, an unhappy, controlling woman whose need to establish herself as a victim trumps her ability to find or give happiness in "Mrs Daley's Daughter." Cusk's vision of contemporary relationships is a lonely, wintry one, in which people's inner landscapes dominate. This makes for gorgeous, languorous writing in places, but it also restricts the view: the landscapes are so rich with pathos that there isn't always enough room for the range of human emotion so essential to prose that relies on thought instead of action. In "The Sacrifices," a married woman who never had the baby she desired visits her childhood home, now occupied by strangers, and fantasizes about returning to her old room: "I would sit on my bed as the afternoon turned outside the window to night. I would wait for them to call me down." This passivity runs throughout the book, as characters tend toward rumination rather than deed. But as readers come to the end, the lives of Cusk's characters begin to tie together hauntingly. This is not life in all its messy complexity, but a mannered, poignant portrait of the treacheries of domestic life. (Mar. 2) Forecast: This is a rather slight offering from Cusk, but the solid U.S. readership she has built will snap it up. Inviting jacket art-a threadbare sofa and wallpaper-like print-won't hurt either. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This novel is really a collection of tales tenuously linked by characters that share little beyond geographic proximity and the sometimes perplexing and vexing state of parenthood. It follows on the heels of Cusk's A Life's Work, an account of her own mixed feelings about motherhood. Here she offers a fictional exploration of mothers whose feelings of alienation toward their children seem to be rooted in the remote and abusive parenting they themselves suffered. They are also connected by the offstage presence of newspaper columnist Serena Porter, whose popular column about family life strikes a chord with her readers. Not surprisingly, when she finally appears in the flesh in the final chapter, she is another harried mother, dealing with two unruly young daughters and the tragedy of a dying husband. This is a witty, trenchant, and sometimes startling look at motherhood from the perspective of urbane, professional women who somehow can't quite cope. Libraries that collect quality fiction may wish to consider.-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Kingston, Ont. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Five interconnected tales from Whitbread-winner Cusk (The Country Life, 1999, etc.), centered on the fraught bonds between parents and children. The currently fashionable tactic of unifying a short-story collection by loosely relating the characters can seem like a gimmick, but Cusk weaves her tapestry ever-tighter toward a climax that will send readers back to the earlier sections to marvel at the subtle artistry that has planted throughout seeds that bear full fruit only at the end. She begins, in the sardonically titled "Confinement," with a pregnant woman in an English jail, convicted of murder and faced with the prospect of losing her baby once she gives birth. The scene shifts in "The Way You Do It" to the Alps, where an ill-assorted group are on a skiing holiday that only underscores the ambivalence of the three characters who are new parents. "I mean, I love them and everything," says one, "but sometimes I think, God, whatever happened to our life?" The protagonist of "The Sacrifices," pressured by her previously married husband to forego having a child, realizes too late she's been psychologically abused by him as she was by her mother. The glancing connections among the characters only truly make sense in the superb two stories that close the collection: the terrifying "Mrs. Daley's Daughter," with its mordant view inside the head of a monstrous mother who always thinks she's the one being hurt; and the keening "Matters of Life and Death," in which an overwhelmed young woman whose husband wanted a stay-at-home wife and mother sees him turn around and say, "This family thing. Six years. Six years . . . I'm dying." A neighbor who writes a feminist newspaper column about raisingchildren and her dying husband, a crusading lawyer, provide the thematic link that ties it all together with an emotional wallop all the more devastating for being rendered in Cusk's quiet, understated prose, with its delicately detailed rendering of the ebb and flow of human thought and feeling. In particular, her portrait of mothers' deeply conflicted attitudes toward their young children perfectly captures the primal love and the despairing sense of total inadequacy in the face of their all-consuming demands. Absolutely brilliant, and deeply moving.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780007161324
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/4/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,001,594
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Cusk is the Whitbread Award–winning author of Saving Agnes, The Temporary, The Country Life, and, most recently, A Life's Work, her memoir about motherhood. She has been selected among Granta magazine's Best British Novelists of the Decade, and lives in Somerset, England.

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Table of Contents

Confinement 1
The Way You Do It 27
The Sacrifices 59
Mrs Daley's Daughter 95
Matters of Life and Death 158
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First Chapter

The Lucky Ones
A Novel

Confinement

Michelle had to get up with her now when she had to go. She was so big she bumped into things. Mostly it was four or five times a night but tonight it was more, eight times already and it wasn't light yet. She was stuck on her back and it was tickling down there. It was like someone was sitting on her, it was that heavy. She couldn't breathe lying on her back. Sometimes she felt she was being pushed out of her own body. It was like being killed, she thought, and then said sorry in her head for thinking it.

'Shel,' she whispered. 'I've got to go.'

For a minute there was nothing and then she heard Michelle get up. She saw her looming around in the dark as if she was drunk.

Mind out,' she said and Michelle swore. There was a thud and the sound of gasping. 'What happened?' she said.

Michelle was laughing. She was making gasping sounds and wheezing and Kirsty felt tremors start in her own stomach, the big muscles flapping and rolling upwards in waves and making her lungs hurt.

'Don't, I'll wet myself,' she said.

Michelle was rolling her over on to her side. She was still laughing, her arms were shaking and her hair danced jerkily over Kirsty's face. Kirsty stuck her legs out into the dark and Shel pulled her off the bed. Her feet made contact with the cold floor but her body was in a sort of landslide, things pouring downwards, and she reeled over after them, clutching at Michelle in the darkness so that Michelle staggered backwards. She thought they might just give and give until they went over but Michelle planted herself and pushed back against her. They were both shaking with laughter. She couldn't see a thing.

'I've wet myself,' she said. 'I'm wet -- at the back.'

Michelle got her under the arms.

'Hold it in,' she said.

'I can't.'

Water was coming out from between her legs; the spring of her bladder felt busted, the water just came out in a torrent and made a gushing sound on the floor.

'Christ,' said Michelle, 'you sound like a horse pissing.'

'I can't stop. Axe you holding me?'

'Christ,' said Michelle.

'Shel,' said Kirsty, 'I can't stop.'

She smelled salt and half retched.

'It's your waters,' said Michelle. Her nails were digging into the tops of Kirsty's arms. There was pain, of a kind that couldn't be changed. She felt Michelle's hot flat body down her back.

'Sorry,' she said as the warm water flowed over their feet. She started to cry because she knew this meant the baby was coming. Michelle was pulling her back towards the bed. Her feet skidded and skated on the wet floor. She paddled in the air for a minute crying and then Michelle heaved her on to the mattress so that she was lying on her side and. lifted her legs up after her. Her wet things were going cold. She shut her eyes and put her arms around her belly. Somewhere down the corridor she could hear women fighting in one of the cells in the dark. The baby travelled up through the core of her body; she held it, she embraced it inside. A fog of sleep hung in her head and she moved in and out of it. For a while she forgot where she was, and then she forgot that there was a baby, except that she felt more concentrated, denser. She felt more herself than she had for a long time, so that while sleeping she formed the idea that she was at home in her bedroom and that on the other side of her eyelids was her old wallpaper with the pattern of blue flowers; that her mum was downstairs making a cup of tea and that nothing had ever happened, nothing separated her from herself. She lay like this until the wetness around her pushed against her sleep and began to trouble her, so that she had to wake up and find out what it was. And then she saw the small room, bleak and grey in the dawn, and Michelle lying in a heap on the other bed, and her own stomach, which looked like big trouble, which looked like a bad dream. The light was like dirt. Doors were banging and people were shouting in the corridor outside. Shel had put a sheet down on the floor in the dark and it lay there twisted and sodden, seeming to replicate something in Kirsty's head. She closed her eyes again and this time Eke a fright she saw the house burning, with big branches of fire coming out of the top, and Julie and the children standing at die window with red behind them, waving.

'I couldn't hold it in,' she said to the warden, who was now standing in the smudgy light at the end of her bed. She couldn't sit up. Tiredness pressed against her face Eke a boot. The mess of her hair scratched at her forehead and cheeks.

'Clean it up,' said the warden, to her and Michelle both.

She went out and locked the door behind her.

'Have you got pains?' said Michelle. She was standing in the middle of the room. Her face was white and worried Eke a fist.

'No. I'm getting up,'

'I think we should tell them.'

Keys scratched in the door. The warden came back in and put a mop and a bucket down on the floor. Then she went away again.

'I'm not telling till I have to.'

The truth was she felt sick, the way she had at the beginning: it was the salty smell of the waters, a used-up dishwater smell with nothing sharp in it. It turned her stomach. And she felt like she was on the edge of it all, too, with the water gone, like you feel when you've jumped but haven't yet hit the ground ...

The Lucky Ones
A Novel
. Copyright © by Rachel Cusk. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

An Introduction from the Publisher
The Lucky Ones is haunted by family: the longing for love, the struggle to connect. In a series of short narratives, Rachel Cusk has crafted five unique portraits -- each one delving deeper than the last into the bonds of family, the mysteries of parenthood, and the overwhelming desire to retain a sense of self.

In "Confinement," a young pregnant woman gives birth while behind bars for a crime she did not commit. On a ski holiday with friends in "The Way You Do It," Martin is fleeing the burdens of his newborn daughter and the bewildering detachment of his wife to both him and the child. "The Sacrifices" finds an unnamed narrator reflecting on her lost childhood and her own rapidly fading chance for parenthood. Three generations of mother and daughter take center stage in "Mrs. Daley's Daughter," in which a woman must come to terms with the daughter she cannot fully understand -- and who has recently become a mother herself.

In the final story, "Matters of Life and Death," a young wife and mother struggles to reconcile these two very different roles. Linking the five narratives is the fleeting presence of a woman and her husband -- not fully seen until near the end of book -- who appear to have it all until tragedy redefines their lives.

With startling precision and power, The Lucky Ones builds on a series of accidental connections and overlapping relationships ... all linked by the elemental and irreversible impact of children on adult lives.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the author chose to open the novel with Kirsty's story, "Confinement," rather than with one of the other narratives? Were you surprised at how Kirsty's story came full circle in the end? What inspires Vanessa to reach out to Kirsty?

  2. Kirsty believes "the baby had protected her, not just from the things that might have happened to her otherwise … but from the greater imperative to rebuild what her sentence had knocked down: her value" (pg 19). How is Kirsty's attitude about her baby different from that of the other mothers in the book toward their children? How much of this is due to the circumstances in which she finds herself?

  3. In "The Way You Do It," Martin "thought of his daughter and a generalized feeling of pity came over him, for them, girls, women" (pg 42). What do you think of think of this statement in general? In the context of the story, how does it relate to Martin's situation? How does it apply to the female characters in the other stories in the book?

  4. In "The Sacrifices," the author never reveals the name of the narrator. Why do you think she chose to omit this detail? What does the title of the story, "The Sacrifices," refer to? How would the narrator of the story answer this question?

  5. Serena Porter -- and the column that she writes -- is the common element found in each story. The narrator in "The Sacrifices," who hears about the column from her sister, Lucy, has this to say: "As I understood it, Serena Porter's success lay in her ability to depict the travails of ordinary women in a glamorous manner. She made them feel that they wanted to be as they already were. She insinuated herself beneath the carapace of female doubt and constructed a fiction of domestic glory there" (pg 84). Is this an accurate assessment of Serena and what she writes about? When you finally meet Serena in person, is she as you had expected?

  6. The men in The Lucky Ones are largely silent. With the exception of Martin, they are viewed through the eyes of the women narrating the stories -- Mr. Daley, Victor, Robert, Colin. Do you trust that the pictures we're given of these men are reliable? Discuss the various relationships between husbands and wives in this book.

  7. We first meet Josephine in "The Way You Do It," where she says to Martin, "It's our mothers' fault. They flog us through school and university and then treat us like failures because we haven't settled down and had kids" (pg 48). Looking back on this, after having read "Mrs. Daley's Daughter," what does it suggest about the relationship between Josephine and her mother?

  8. The dynamic between Mrs. Daley and Josephine is one of the most complicated in The Lucky Ones. How would you define their relationship? Do you believe Mrs. Daley is a "product of her time," so to speak? How does the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Daley shift after Josephine moves into their house with her baby?

  9. Mr. Daley tells his wife that he believes Roger and Josephine's relationship is "close to ideal" (pg 155). What prompts him to describe their relationship in this way? Aside from Roger and Josephine being unwed, how does their relationship contrast with Mr. Daley's own marriage?

  10. Before Vanessa appears in "Matters of Life and Death," we find out that she has been severely injured in a car accident. Did knowing this affect your perception of her as you read "Matters of Life and Death"? In addition to her physical injuries, how else is Vanessa changed after the accident?

  11. Discuss the narrative structure of The Lucky Ones. How do the stories complement one another? Do they contradict each other in any way?

  12. One reviewer said about The Lucky Ones, "Rachel Cusk is brilliant at depicting unattractive characters. But anyone who has ever lived in a family will relish it." What do you think of this reviewer's statement? Do you agree with it?

  13. Ultimately, what perception do you get of motherhood and parenthood from reading The Lucky Ones? Do you identify or empathize with any of the characters in the book?
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