Book reviews from The Free Lance-Star.
Quirky, not gloomy
BY ELIZABETH RABIN / FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
IN THE introduction to Ludmilla Petrushev-skaya’s collection “There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, And He Hanged Himself,” translator Anna Summers talks about the Russian idea
of byet, which “denote[s] the circumstances of everyday life,” ranging from money troubles and cheap goods to spiritual poverty and despair. Byet is not so different from our Americanism, “It is what it is,” with all the frustration and resignation the words entail.
Petrushevskaya’s stories are centered around the theme of love. But these are tales more about the oddities of attraction, fidelity and the toll the harsh circumstances of life inflicts on relationships. Her characters are eager to grasp at any opportunity in order to rise above their mundane lives.
“Like Penélope” is a shining example of the stories. Oksana, a hardworking student, tries on a dress her mother has made for her out of curtains. Normally she would ignore her mother’s thrifty projects, but the dress gives Oksana a chance to pretend that she is more than she really is. When she answers the door in the dress, the stranger outside is instantly smitten, ready to remake his life for her.
The realities of our life are beyond our ability to change them, yet we push on, determined to dream despite the circumstances. Petrushev-skaya’s stories celebrate those fantastic moments when we are able to transcend the everyday.
Elizabeth Rabin is a freelance writer in Spotsylvania County.
THERE ONCE LIVED A GIRL WHO SEDUCED HER SISTER’S HUSBAND, AND HE HANGED HIMSELF
By Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
(Penguin, $15, 192 pp.)