Smart New Review of RASH

vermontwomen

There’s no link to their site, just their FB page, so here it is in full:

Rash: A Memoir by Lisa Kusel
Salt Lake City, UT: WiDo, 2017; 292 pages

by Lori Lustberg

Once upon a time, Lisa Kusel, her husband, Victor Prussack, and their 6-year-old daughter, Loy, lived a seemingly perfect life in California. One evening, inspired by the book Three Cups of Tea, Prussack, a schoolteacher with a deep passion for his work, told Kusel he felt the need “to do something different.” Kusel’s latest novel had recently been rejected by several different publishers, and she herself was feeling deeply restless and unhappy.

Soon thereafter, Kusel learned about Green School, an international school with a groundbreaking, progressive, environmentally sustainable mission that was putting down roots in Bali. Having read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Kusel began to dream about finding paradise, inner peace, and happily ever after—as well as getting her writing groove back—in Bali. Thus began her efforts to not-so-subtly nudge Prussack to pursue a teaching position at Green School.

“This suddenly sounds too important to you,” Prussack said, rather presciently, during one particularly intense nudging session. “I get that you think this would be an interesting place for me to teach and yeah, for Loy, it’d be nothing but great, but what about you? What will you get out of it?”

Kusel’s thoughts drifted off as if floating on a feather, carrying us with them: “If we moved to Bali, I reasoned without any real reason, I would finally find true self-love and inner peace. … I’d get keener; be able to smell the purple in Loy’s paintings; see the perfume wafting off the skin of beautiful women; hear the fish swim. I would reinvent myself. I would find contentment. I would be present. Victor and I would fall in love all over again. Bali would make that happen. Bali. How tropical and flowery that sounded. Yes, if we moved to Bali, all would be light and golden and I’d-” “Lisa, I’m still waiting for you to answer my question,” Prussack interrupted her reverie. “I think if we moved to Bali, I’d learn how to stop searching for something new all the time and be grateful for what I have.”

Not long after, Prussack was hired to teach at Green School; the couple sold their little blue house on the hill and moved their family from California to Bali. Rash is the story of how their paradisiacal dream quickly devolved into a parasitical nightmare, both real and metaphorical, external and internal. As Kusel puts it:

“Far from the soft tropical breezes and limitless supply of papayas, it turned out I’d gone to a place where I couldn’t have been any more vulnerable; a place I had no control over. I had no walls to hide behind. No insulation to muffle my voice, the one inside my head as well as the one coming from my mouth. My home was open to all creatures; a space where anyone could enter. Oh, boy, did they.”

The family had moved nearly 10,000 miles in part so Prussack could pursue an idealistic vision and do what he loved most. Inadvertently, however, Prussack ended up having to navigate, on a daily basis, the money/power/ego/administrative/micropolitical web that was driving the school. On top of that, Green School had opened its doors long before it should have, teachers were treated poorly, and Prussack, ever the optimist, was under unrelenting stress from the constant pressure of trying to make the best of an unworkable situation. As if to add insult to injury, the school and the teachers’ homes were smack dab in the middle of the oppressively hot, humid Balinese jungle with no walls and few modern amenities, infested with mold and ants, amid an endless construction zone. What’s more, the campus was next to a graveyard, where the stench of bodies being cremated—along with the repetitive, droning sounds of ceremonial gamelan music—would often permeate the air. Not long after they arrived in Bali, Kusel began a rapid downward descent. Instead of writing and blissing out, a la Elizabeth Gilbert, she found herself endlessly complaining to Prussack and, as a result, nearly destroying her marriage. As she writes:

“All I’d done since our move into the bamboo castle was gripe about what was wrong, from the constant noise to the lack of hot water to the litany of small annoyances that had been eating at me. I’d been so self-absorbed and negative that I’d all but ignored how my attitude could be affecting my family.”

In Rash, the oppressive external circumstances Kusel, Prussack, and Loy find themselves facing (including some miserable skin rashes that plagued Loy), serve as metaphors for Kusel’s inner “rash,” her discontent, restlessness, and constant searching for happiness outside her own heart and mind. With writing that is honest, raw, and often hilariously funny, Kusel weaves a brilliant tapestry that represents the human condition and its varying expressions of hope and disappointment, beauty and ugliness, love and longing, joy and pain, need and want, suffering and acceptance. In the end, with Prussack’s and Loy’s love and support, Kusel realizes that “home” and “happiness” have nothing to do with location or circumstance and everything to do with one’s heart and mind.

Lori Lustberg is a freelance writer specializing in financial, legal, and tax issues. She is currently working on her first book, The Art and Heart of Winning at Divorce: A New Paradigm.

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