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The memoir is a tempting but treacherous form. As the English novelist Rachel Cusk writes in Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $20), “Unclothed, truth can be vulnerable, ungainly, shocking. Over-dressed it becomes a lie.” Cusk is known for her sharp style, and in Aftermath she makes no attempt to paper over her wrath at the breakup of her marriage:

We were a man and a woman who in our struggle for equality had simply changed clothes. We were two transvestites, a transvestite couple — well, why not? Except that I did both things, was both man and woman, while my husband — meaning well — only did one.

The union was not happy, but it was convenient, since he did most of the housework. Of her husband’s belief that she “treated him monstrously” Cusk writes: “It was his story, and lately I have come to hate stories” (which doesn’t prevent her from telling her own). When he reminds her that they share equally in the family property and the children: “They’re my children, I said. They belong to me.” From there, partly by means of a toothache, Cusk’s meditation expands, and her view of the married couples she sees around her darkens. Watching families bicycling in a park, she dismisses the entire Judeo-Christian tradition in one go (“The day feeble Joseph agreed to marry pregnant Mary the old passionate template was destroyed. That was an act of fundamental dishonesty all round . . . a lie!”). She prefers the Clytemnestra-Agamemnon model:

There are no devoted mothers here, no perfect children, no protective dutiful fathers, no public morality. There is only emotion, and the attempt to tame it, to shape it into a force for good.

Admirers of Cusk’s earlier works (most notably Saving Agnes, which won the Whitbread First Novel Award in 1993) will be grateful that this book is fewer than 200 pages long, and that the pages have very large type. Cusk’s memoir reads like a tantrum — an erudite and eloquent tantrum, but a tantrum nonetheless.

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