by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
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Love stories, with a twist: the eagerly awaited follow-up to the great Russian writer's New York Times bestselling scary fairy tales. 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 in all stages of life: 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.
I have not had a lot of experience with Russian literature but was very curious about the seventeen short stories contained within the pages of There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself. This is a follow-up to the author’s New York Times bestseller There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby. I really enjoyed some of the tales and thought others were ok. What Petrushevskaya does give us is a dark, gritty, in your face look at the misery, love, and loss of those living in communist-controlled Russia during her youth. Imagine if you will a look inside the apartments of the projects.
I found the translator’s introduction to be fascinating and it gave me a sense of the book and what I was about to read. Each of these is a professed love story, but they also show so much more. The daily struggles, man’s ability to cope, dreams, needs, wants and fears. These are not romantic tales that will make you swoon, but each holds a ray of hope no matter how dismal or disheartening.
I did not consume this in one sitting, and in fact read just a few stories each evening. The tales are dark and at times downright depressing. Sometimes I found myself experiencing a range of emotions from shock to laughter and others the tale ended too soon. While each tale is relatively short, we quickly get up close and personal with the author’s characters. If you have ever read Grimm’s fairytales then these are the love stories. The writing is very down to earth and plain but the author’s words are deliberate and powerful. She hides nothing behind flowery words; the walls are stark, their bellies empty and you feel it. While I could not always connect with the characters I certainly understood what they were feeling.
Overall There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself was a depressingly dark read that I actually enjoyed. Some of the decisions made by the characters were difficult to me and offered a stark look at the time period and the difficulties these characters faced. I would have really liked one tale and a wider scoop of the time period, maybe about one building and the tenets who resided in it. While this might not be for everyone I am certainly glad that I read it.