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Who is G? The One & The Many: 'Parade' by Rachel Cusk

In Rachel Cusk's new novel, Parade, just released from FSG, the traditional narrative of storytelling is challenged through the continuation of one identity through the stories & lives of many different characters, all of whom are artists of a different variety. This collection of short stories is combined into one continuous saga starring an array of characters, with each person living a different life in different regions, but all sharing the moniker of “G.”

The book presents a kaleidoscope of lifepaths, with the main theme being personal identity & how it connects to a collective experience. The shared pseudonym of G is used to unite many different stories & encounters into one concise theme. It also places the reader in the position of the narrator & encourages one to focus less on each character as an individual & more on the themes or ideas they represent. Cusk simultaneously gives each character a personal identity, yet no identity at all. Every character is different, with a variety of thoughts, ideas, lifestyles, & problems — yet all are one as G.

The title, Parade, in my opinion, refers to the experience of the artists & creators given the identity of G marching through life & exploring all the facets & relationships it may hold. It is up to the reader to decide how these identities intersect & interact with each other. Are they all meant to be the same person? Does G represent humanity as a whole, or is G solely a representation of those who recognize a relationship between life & art?

The story that stood out to me in particular, “The Midwife”, goes back & forth between different phases in the life of a female artist. Her rise to fame in the art world is contrasted with her relationship with her blasé husband, disapproving parents, & disconnected child. While at face value a highly respected & renowned artist, her perspective of herself is diminished by her desire to please her unimpressed husband & fulfill the expected role of motherhood. She meets another successful female artist who represents what she could be if she only embraced her power & didn’t view herself as an accessory to her husband. Instead, she continues to live a life of insecurity & discomfort, awkwardly trying to fulfill what society expects of her as a woman.  

There are three other curious little tales about artists & their interpersonal relationships. In the first story, "The Stuntman", a male artist & renowned painter named G is hailed for his upside down portraits of his wife that capture her image in a remarkably vulnerable manner. Story three, "The Diver", revolves around a table of high-class artists chatting about a suicide committed at a museum earlier that day. The conversation devolves into musings on art, motherhood, & conflict. In the final story, "The Spy”, G is a filmmaker dealing with the recent death of his mother. For most of the story, the mother lies comatose as G reminisces on their relationship & childhood memories. In the end, she finally slips away & now his mother is merely a part of G’s history. 

There is a benefit to so many different stories contributing to a shared identity: anybody could relate to at least one of the pieces that make up this novel. If you hadn’t gathered, it is a challenging read, but a rewarding one. Some books you can breeze through; this os one that almost demands a slower pace in order to truly digest everything it sets put to accomplish & communicate. While there were some stories I related to & others that didn’t strike me as much, the overall concept of the shared identity in this nonlinear narrative truly did stand out to me. Both the writing style, story matter, & multifaceted portrayal of community & identity made for a unique and memorable read. I can honestly say I have never read anything quite like this; admittedly, it was my intro to Cusk’s work, & I find myself curious to explore her oevre — something tells me G just may be the many faces of the novelist’s own work.

—Carson Milstead


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