There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband and He Hanged Himself

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Penguin, $15 trade paper (171p) ISBN 978-0-14-312152-7
Full of meaningful, finely crafted detail, this story collection set in Russia manages to tackle the grimmest of situations head-on with compassion and a great deal of warmth. In “Two Deities” a one-night stand between a woman in her mid-30s and a man of 20 results in pregnancy and the decision to raise the child together. The troubled “Alibaba” sells her mother’s rare books to get money for drinks and longs to find a man who doesn’t live with his mother or wife, so that she might stay the night. In “Tamara’s Baby” a man named “A.A.” who makes life miserable for his friends by always dropping by unannounced finds contentment with an older woman he meets at a health resort for the indigent. Dasha, in “The Impulse,” shaves her head and ignores her son, who subsists on a diet of ice cream and frozen pizza, because of the stress of her relationship with a married man. The author does a wonderful job evoking the world of shared apartments and heavy drinking, where to get from a village to the capital “one had to ride the train for seven days, then a bus for thirty-six hours, then another bus, which sometimes didn’t run, for seven more.” However cruel the characters are to each other and to themselves, the author is always fair, broadminded, and even loving toward them, making this book both supremely gritty and realistically life-affirming. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/12/2012
Release date: 01/29/2013
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