I wrote this as the “What We’re Reading Now” item for the next Grotto Classes Bulletin, so thought I’d also share it here:
I’m halfway through Rachel Cusk’s Outline, and it’s everything the rave reviews promised. I first read Cusk in 2004, when I loved her novel The Lucky Ones for its bitingly unsentimental portrayal of motherhood, an aspect she took to new degrees in her later memoir A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother. Outline is something stranger: a novel about a woman writer who goes to Greece during a very hot summer to teach a writing conference, and ends up listening to—and relaying to the reader—the life stories of random people she encounters, starting with the thrice-divorced Greek millionaire she meets on the plane.
The narrator’s spare retelling of these autobiographies—rendered almost without dialogue—quickly becomes an examination of the way we construct, come to believe in, and often become trapped within, our self-made life narratives. Bonus for the working writer: the book becomes a revelatory meditation on story itself. “Reality might be described as the eternal equipoise of positive and negative, but in this story the two poles had become dissociated and ascribed separate, warring identities,” the narrator reflects on the Greek playboy’s life tale. Despite the layers of investigation in Outline, there’s nothing “meta” about the experience of reading it. Every paragraph offers a startlingly articulated truth, or re-electrifies an old cliché. Absorbing.
The summer session of Grotto Classes will be posted soon. I’ll be offering a “Mega Memoir Manuscript” workshop for writers who have reached the middle stage or further in a full manuscript–each writer in the class (limited to six) will workshop a long submission of up to 125 pages. I’ll also offer a one-day June 25th “Gesture Writing” workshop. This class was very popular and filled quickly in the spring.
Meanwhile, registration opens in five days for my online “Mastering the Personal Essay with the Masters” 10-week course at Stanford Continuing Studies. I love teaching this course, in which we close-read masterful short essays by the likes of Grace Paley, Ian Frazier, and Dinty Moore, then try out borrowing their form to write our own. This class also tends to fill quickly, so grab a spot on May 16th if you’re interested.