We all need a Jeffers in our lives, a person for whom we can write our stories. We all desperately want to be heard by someone. To be heard gives our story legitimacy, a palpable reality. The reader of Cusk’s novel may be more intrigued by Jeffers than any of the six characters who populate the novel. The chosen rhetorical convention suggests Robinson Jeffers, the faithful correspondent in Mabel Dodge Luhan’s epistolary treatment of D. H. Lawrence, but Cusk is doing more than simply celebrating Luhan’s life and writing. .
Cusk is using a slice of the 30’s modernist literary scene to filter her study of the Covid-laced world of 2021. The voice in her novel writes to a nonjudgmental listener who gives her perfect isolation. The anonymous reader is utter plasticity. It shapes and reshapes the experience lurking under a life laboring with the perceived judgment of a pandemic. None of this is spelled out as the novel works as extended metaphor. Jeffers is one clue, and the title is another.