Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation starkly illustrates what comes after motherhood, at least for Cusk, in an abstract style that will speak closely to some while leaving others wishing for a more sequential retrospection of Cusk's marriage and subsequent divorce … Cusk does write intimately about her family's life with, and without, her husband – just not in the voyeuristic manner that our society has grown used to...Whether there is a defining incident that caused Cusk's separation from her husband we don't know, and nor should we necessarily care. Cusk's focus is on the pain and grief that accompanies the deterioration of a marriage and a life built together, specifically when it involves children ... As philosophical as this memoir may be, Cusk also deftly balances exposing her depleted mental state with her physical deterioration.
What happens when a marriage collapses? When you are no longer husband and wife, but just yourself, just a woman?...From this withered position, Cusk struggles early in the book to understand what went wrong. She had, after all, made efforts in her marriage to maintain her own identity, writing full-time while her husband watched their children … The writing is full of feeling, and even the stylistic oddities contribute to a sense of wandering and solitude, which, speaking from my own experience, feels entirely appropriate. For unlike marriage and motherhood, divorce has few playbooks.
Its title, Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation, is a bit of a misnomer. There is, in fact, not much marriage in here... What follows includes a lot of solitude, smoking and near-starvation. Cusk more or less stops eating and serves her two daughters their supper on trays … Beyond the easy knocks, Cusk is asking herself, and the reader, to think about deeper questions, most notably: where is the authority when the authority of men has gone? In Greek myths she finds a brutal, passionate world suited to her new outlook … The (overwhelmingly female) critics of Cusk’s confessional books miss the point: she’s not out to be our friend. She is not seeking approval. We must accept her, if we do, simply as an extraordinary writer of the female experience. She puts into words what is normally consigned to the realm of the non-verbal.