Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rachel Cusk: A Life's Work

I am never having children. I already knew that before I read "A Life's Work." Now I have reasons #1376-20386 why I will not be having a child. When I say having a child, I mean not conceiving a child, not birthing a child, and not raising a child. Rachel Cusk is eloquent and honest to the point of brutality on the subject. I have two friends who are recent mothers- one has an infant and one is pregnant- and while they are both eloquent and honest, this book leaves me wondering- have they both been brutalized in the way Cusk describes? I would not be surprised.

I am a feminist, and have been one for as long as I can remember (like, I read "The Beauty Myth" in elementary school). Feminist theory has been over the territory of deconstructing what is "natural" for women (i.e. having children). "A Life's Work," while not necessarily a feminist work, does a great work at deconstructing motherhood. Cusk clearly feels torn from herself- her body, her life, her work- everything that she knew was hers, before pregnancy. She reads every kind of book on parenting that she can put her hands on, as each step of motherhood seems to be a new trial that she may fail. What foods can she eat while she's pregnant? What kind of birth should she have? How is she going to get her baby to sleep? How is she going to get the baby to stop crying? Where should she live? ?How can she have friends? Who is she? Who is this baby?

And why, Cusk writes, do mothers not tell other mothers about this weird state that motherhood is? It's true, I feel torn, too. I'm so tempted to give this book to my pregnant friend, but then I feel like a terrible, child-hating misanthrope, determined to spread my "zero-population-growth" politics around. Cusk writes "I often think that people wouldn't have children if they knew what it was like, and I wonder whether as a gender we contain a Darwinian stop upon our powers of expression, our ability to render the truth of this subject." If people talked about what it's actually like- would people stop having babies altogether? Am I the only one who is actually freaking terrified of being a mother without reading this book?

I believe this is only one side of the story. I'm sure some mothers have a wonderful time the whole time they are pregnant, nursing, etc. And some have a good time part of the time. But this is the story that isn't always told. And Cusk tells it exceptionally well.