Tuesday, January 29, 2013

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself---A review

I love a good short story collection! I was thrilled when I was sent a review copy of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's book There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, And He Hanged Himself. I mean, really. With a title like that, how could I not be curious about the contents of the book?

This is the blurb that the publisher sent me:

Petrushevskaya’s previous collection of scary fairy tales, There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, was a the New York Times bestseller, winner of a World Fantasy Award, one of New Yorkmagazine’s Ten Best Books of the Year and one of NPR’s Five Best Works of Foreign Fiction. James Wood, in The New Yorker, called it “a revelation—like reading late-Tolstoy fables, with all of the master’s directness and brutal authority.”
In this new release, Petrushevskaya demonstrates how much can be said about human connection with so few words. These realist tales of women looking for love are the stories that she is best known for in Russia. Stories from this collection have been published in Harper’s, Playboy,The Paris Review and Zoetropeand the early reviews are fantastic: Elle calls it “on par with the work of such horror maestros as Edgar Allen Poe,” and Kirkus raves, “Think Chekhov writing from a female perspective.”

THERE ONCE LIVED A GIRL... is made up of seventeen fables of marriage, courtship, sex, and love: the office one-night stand that creates a baby; the awkward tryst in a communal apartment; the responsible father chased away from his family by an insane and jealous wife; and the unremarkable and predictable souls who find they have drifted inevitably into union. Romance, violence, infidelity, tenderness—Petrushevskaya has compiled all of those great narrative traditions into an elegant and macabre collection of stories that show just why she is Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer.

I was not familiar with Ms. Petrushevskaya prior to receiving this book, but reading her stories was like hanging out with a Russian Eudora Welty. She captured the gritty and dark quality of life in her country during a time filled with angst, worry, and poverty. Many of these stories are very humorous and easy to relate to, but there are other tales that are sad, heartbreaking, and poignant. Judging from the forward, it would appear that her own life was full of those things and that like so many of us, she writes about what she knows.

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!

For a sneak peek at one of the stories in There Once Lived A Girl..., click here: A MURKY FATE   I posted this excerpt last week at All Things Writing.

Here is that Amazon buy link , too! THERE ONCE LIVED A GIRL...

1 comment:

  1. Sounds interesting! And the title of the book drew me in too; my first reaction was "whoa!" I like stories about romantic relationships; a story is always more interesting to me if there is romance in it.