There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories Paperback – Jan 29 2013
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“Deeply unromantic love stories told frankly, with an elasticity and economy of language, . . . dark, fatalistic humor and bone-deep irony.” —The New York Times Book Review
“This gem’s exquisite conjugation of doom and disconnect is so depressingly convincing that I laughed out loud. . . . On par with the work of such horror maestros as Edgar Allan Poe.” —Ben Dickinson, Elle
“Petrushevskaya writes instant classics. . . . These, as the title proclaims, are love stories, scored to a totalitarian track.” —The Daily Beast
“Combines the brevity of Lydia Davis with the familial strangleholds of Chekhov. They’re short and brutal, but often elegant in their economy.” —The Onion A.V. Club
“Full of off-kilter, lurid, even violent attempts at connection.” —Flavorwire, 10 of the Most Twisted Short Stories About Love
“Petrushevskaya’s short stories are painfully good.” —Kelly Link, The New York Times Book Review
“Heartbreaking, but . . . also beautiful and touching in describing how, if not love, at least companionship, can save the most lost souls.” —The Rumpus
“These bitter, funny, and often absurd tales of love between unsuspecting men and women paint a bleak picture of Soviet living and the frequent (im)possibilities of love.” —PopMatters
“An important writer . . . Russia’s best-known . . . She’s a much better storyteller than her American counterparts in the seedy surreal. . . . Petrushevskaya’s stories should remind her readers of our own follies, illusions and tenderness.” —Chicago Tribune
“This is romance Russian-style, ‘tough love’ in its most literal sense, yet somehow, its bleakness is more satisfying in its humanity and aesthetic simplicity than the sugary appeal of so many popular love stories.” —Rain Taxi
“Dark and mischievous . . . [Petrushevskaya’s] stories never flinch from harshness, yet also offer odd redemptions . . . comedic brilliance . . . microscopic precision . . . several inimitable, laugh-out-loud paragraphs . . . creepy early-Ian-McEwan style identity disintegrations [and a] formidable way with a character profile. . . . [The translation, by] Anna Summers, [is] starkly elegant, often wry. . . . Summers also provides a sensitive, informative and insightful introduction. . . . Petrushevskaya . . . ensures herself a place high in the roster of unsettling Writers of the Weird.” —Locus
“Both supremely gritty and realistically life-affirming . . . Full of meaningful, finely crafted detail.” —Publishers Weekly
“Think Chekhov writing from a female perspective. . . . Petrushevskaya’s short stories transform the mundane into the near surreal, pausing only to wink at the absurdity of it all.” —Kirkus Reviews
“This celebrated Russian author is so disquieting that long after Solzhenitsyn had been published in the Soviet Union, her fiction was banned—even though nothing about it screams ‘political’ or ‘dissident’ or anything else. It just screams.” —Elle
“Her suspenseful writing calls to mind the creepiness of Poe and the psychological acuity (and sly irony) of Chekhov.” —More
“The fact that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is Russia’s premier writer of fiction today proves that the literary tradition that produced Dostoyevsky, Gogol, and Babel is alive and well.” —Taylor Antrim, The Daily Beast
“Her witchy magic foments an unsettling brew of conscience and consequences.” —The New York Times Book Review
“What distinguishes the author is her compression of language, her use of detail and her powerful visual sense.” —Time Out New York
“A master of the Russian short story.” —Olga Grushin, author of The Dream Life of Sukhanov
“There is no other writer who can blend the absurd and the real in such a scary, amazing and wonderful way.” —Lara Vapnyar, author of There Are Jews in My House
“One of the greatest writers in Russia today and a vital force in contemporary world literature.” —Ken Kalfus, author of A Disorder Peculiar to the Country
“A master of the short story form, a kindred spirit to writers like Angela Carter and Yumiko Kurahashi.” —Kelly Link, author of Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen
About the Author
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya was born in 1938 in Moscow, where she still lives. She is the author of more than fifteen volumes of prose, including the New York Times bestseller There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, which won a World Fantasy Award and was one of New York magazine’s Ten Best Books of the Year and one of NPR’s Five Best Works of Foreign Fiction, and There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories. A singular force in modern Russian fiction, she is also a playwright whose work has been staged by leading theater companies all over the world. In 2002 she received Russia’s most prestigious prize, The Triumph, for lifetime achievement.
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One of my favorite stories was called The Goddess Parker. The plot revolves around a male school teacher called A.A. He is looking for privacy but finds himself becoming friendly with an old woman named Alvetina. Through Alvetina, he meets the most important woman in his life and almost loses her. It is a simple story--one we've even heard before--but it's told in such a way that you can't help but want to read it just one more time.
Another story that stood out for me was The Fall. It's about a woman who is the bell of the ball and attracts men by just the way she tosses her hair. Through the use of her feminine wiles, we see her carry on a passionate love affair that both she and the reader know will end badly, but like a car wreck, you just can't seem to look away from it. It feels all too real.
Maybe that's the thing about Ms. Petrushevskaya's stories: they feel like people you know. Their highs, their lows--she does an excellent job of drawing the reader in to her world. That quality is what kept me reading each story.
By the way, these are short tales. I read the whole book in one sitting, but they are engaging enough to read in small spurts, too. The paperback goes on sale today at Amazon!
When I looked at the first page of Currie's book I was standing in the doorway between the sunroom and the kitchen munching a piece of bacon. (Yes, I bought bacon, I cooked bacon, I ate bacon.) Janet Maslin (N.Y.Times) had said of Mr. Currie "pays no heed to ordinary narrative convention" and I thought, Oh, good, something innovative with no traceable narrative thread; just what I need to take my mind of my weight.
The other review book they sent was from Russia's acclaimed contemporary fiction writer Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (referred to henceforth as LP) whose previous collection of short stories was titled: There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby." I had the follow up: There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband And He Hanged Himself. I knew this was the book I wanted to review. First of all - get this - the subtitle is "Love Stories."
If nothing else, these titles parsed out in fairytale language send the message that we're going to find out some truth about human nature and there's going to be no fairytale about it. That's the purpose of good fiction and LP doesn't disappoint. It's the opposite of the horrid sentimentality that imprisons some popular American fiction (except for Jennifer Egan and a few others). Petrushevskaya is telegraphing, we're dark, so what? Get over it but let's look at it. Let's look at it in an allegorical way so you won't be freaked out.
The stories are short. They are about society's losers who are trying to get a foothold in love. They are narrated simply without much dialogue and without any emotional prompting by the author. Here's what happened, I don't care how you feel about it. They are set in Russia where privacy and a place to live are everyday difficulties. Lovers are homely or they have diabetes and they live with their mothers. Existences are mostly meager. If one is foolishly daydreaming of the return of a one-night stand it is less hurtful than the eventual breakdown of a real romance.
American Beauty comes to mind. And a fabulous film The Details that is so dark, so true, so beguiling that we breathe a sigh of relief that our black marks are small.
The Goddess Parka, one of the more optimistic stories ends in a hook-up that barely happens and only through very fragile connections - but isn't that always the way? LC uses supernatural intervention with as much ease as she uses the macabre because she's a humanist at heart although the nightmarish aspect of some of the stories makes us blink and ponder a minute.
Despite it's Russian origins and the literary tradition that produced Dostoyevsky, the stories are easy to read and leave us with a lot to mull over.
Nearly all the stories in this volume are about women. A few of the women (usually friends or relatives of the main character) are shrews. Some are emotionally or mentally stunted. Most are victims -- of abuse or poverty or incest or unfaithful lovers. Nearly all of them persevere; they have no choice. Some of the stories are dark comedies, others are just dark. Occasionally the stories are about women in full but, in many cases, we see only small, eventful slices of their lives. Some of the stories left me wanting more, some are more insightful than others, a couple seem pointless, but the best ones are a powerful indictment of a society that places little value on impoverished women, and a wry examination of women who do not adequately value themselves. If the stories have a shared message, it isn't "love conquers all" -- for Petrushevskaya's women, love simply conquers.
My favorite story, "Tamara's Baby," is about an arrogant, parasitic man and the elderly woman who treats him like a child. Two other standouts are "Young Berries," which tells of a girl who survives the cruelty of her fellow students and gains the appreciation of a boy, and the ironically titled "A Happy Ending," about a woman who has a plan to leave the husband (she calls him "Clapper") who gave her gonorrhea.
Petrushevskaya tells her stories in prose that derives power from its simplicity and shrewdness. She is an eloquent spokeswoman for the Russian women who suffered the horrors of totalitarian oppression, drunken husbands, indifferent employers, and uncaring families. If I could, I would give this story collection 4 1/2 stars.
The characters in these stories treat love as just part of their day, or something that just happens, or something that is required of them.
In short, the love stories in this book are closer to real life than to fiction.
Despite the gloomy sounding description I just gave, I did enjoy the book very much. The translation was, for the most part, very well done, with just a few bits that probably just don't translate that well from the Russian.
The book is something a bit different, and perfect for those who like to have to think a bit about what they read.