On a sun-soaked Parisian street, M, a mother on the brink of rebellion, wanders into a famous artist’s gallery show. The artist’s paintings speak—quite literally—to her, promising a liberation usually reserved for men. She returns to the coastal home she shares with her husband, but the unsettling impression of the art, and the evasive artist, remains. So she writes, inviting him to stay in their second place, a modest cottage salvaged from the land.
When historical catastrophe upends daily life, M’s daughter returns to the marsh, along with her prim, privileged boyfriend. The painter arrives, too, accompanied by a lithe, cosmopolitan lover. Resigned to the perilous indoors, fissures form within the strange group. The painter’s quietly demonic presence wreaks havoc with M, plunging her into existential disarray. As secrets, alliances and private desires come to light, she is forced to choose between her deepest impulses: to comply or to rebel completely.
Like her acclaimed Outline trilogy, Rachel Cusk’s Second Place transcends its form. Inspired by Lorenzo in Taos, Mabel Dodge Luhan’s 1932 memoir of the writer D. H. Lawrence’s fraught visit to her communal property, the novel hovers between past and present, Gothic and contemporary, fable and truth—continuing to haunt us long after we’ve looked away.