Why do I keep doing this? This, of course, meaning "reading Rachel Cusk". I think the answer is because I find her writing to be interesting and unlikeable, which is sort of a compelling combination when you consider how digestible and brief her work is.
This...is no different than the Outline trilogy in terms of takeaway. The form is different. The trilogy has no coherent whole and is a thin thread of unrelated vignettes; Second Place is a sincere narrative arc, even if that arc is used primarily to have its characters orate and soliluqoize about Art and Meaning. The trilogy is about imbuing one-off characters with a depth and nuance that feels unreasonable; Second Place turns every single character into a stereotype.
And there are moments of beauty! I think, at the end of the day, Cusk should be an essayist, and perhaps this is her way of doing so. Her writing is so fascinating and her stories are so bad.