Wednesday, June 25, 2014

There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband And He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband And He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Published January 2013 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
By turns sly and sweet, burlesque and heartbreaking, these realist fables of women looking for love are the stories that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya—who has been compared to Chekhov, Tolstoy, Beckett, Poe, Angela Carter, and even Stephen King—is best known for in Russia.

Here are attempts at human connection, both depraved and sublime, by people across the life span: one-night stands in communal apartments, poignantly awkward couplings, office trysts, schoolgirl crushes, elopements, tentative courtships, and rampant infidelity, shot through with lurid violence, romantic illusion, and surprising tenderness. With the satirical eye of Cindy Sherman, Petrushevskaya blends macabre spectacle with transformative moments of grace and shows just why she is Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer.

My Thoughts:
First of all, how's that for a title? All of the collections of Petrushevskaya's translated works have titles like these. I'm not sure if they scare more people off or are so unusual that they pull people in. Count me in the later group. Plus they're translated Russian stories and you know how I like to travel the world in my reading.

The collection spans Petrushevskaya's life and the stories reflect the stages of life, from that young girl who seduced her sister's husband to a seventy-five year old woman who finds love.

From the Introduction:
"Russians have a word, byt, from being to denote the circumstances of everyday life. In Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's love stories, but means waiting in line for basic goods, from potatoes to winter shoes; it means inflation that robs old people of their savings; it means an ambulance that takes an hour to com ego a dying woman; it means alcoholism, obsolete ideology, anti-Semitism, poverty, inhumane laws - all the follies and cruelties of late- and post-Soviet society"
Throughout this collection, that setting is a vital part of every story and directly affects the behavior of each character. Life in late- and post-Soviet society was not a happy place to live for most people. Consequently, these are not happily-ever-after love stories. In point of fact, as you may have surmised from the title, they are largely odd, often depressing stories. They are unromantic, often cruel, and filled with unhappy people with little hope. All of which makes it hard to "like" these stories and their inhabitants.

But when you're someone like me who is always looking for unique ways to tell familiar stories, who loves irony in a book, and who loves to learn about different cultures, you're going to appreciate what Petrushevskaya has done in these stories. And you're going to be grateful to live where you do and not in the dying days of the Soviet empire.

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