29 January 2013

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself (Ludmilla Petrushevskaya)

This second Anna Summers-translated collection of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's stories is subtitled "Love Stories" (as the first, 2009's There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby, further explained itself as "Scary Fairy Tales"). Of course, as one can tell from that gloriously macabre mouthful of a title*, these tales of romantic and maternal love rarely end well, and never less than ambiguously.

It seems wrong, somehow, to even try to discuss Petrushevskaya's writing in depth, because her style is so spare, with meaning and emotion rattling around within the spaces between words. She has an amazing gift for economy, and for chronicling the everyday bleaknesses and indignities of Soviet and post-Soviet life, as well as the persistent black humor that I've found throughout my (admittedly sporadic) reading of centuries of Russian fiction. Pair this volume with roses past their prime and 90% cocoa dark chocolate for your unsentimental Valentine. (Or your bitterly single self.)

*(The professional bookseller in me cannot wait to impress customers by correctly identifying the book from their garbled memories of the title. This is only somewhat sarcastic.)

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