cover image Something Unbelievable

Something Unbelievable

Maria Kuznetsova. Random House, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-525-51190-8

Kuznetsova (Oksana, Behave!) tediously unfolds the story of a new mother’s relationship with her Ukrainian grandmother. As Natasha Schulman waits for her “soul to be filled” by her infant daughter, she’s encouraged by Stas, her husband’s friend and a “waiter-slash-poet-slash-heartbreaker” who has been crashing in their New York City apartment, to pursue her languishing acting career. Over Skype, Natasha’s grandmother Larissa Fyodorovna recalls events leading to her own grandmother’s suicide during WWII after the family was evacuated from Kiev to a remote town. Then 13, Larissa was torn between two boys: “striking, dashing” Misha, whom she eventually married, and his “smug and excitable” younger brother. Stas, privy to the women’s conversations, suggests Natasha stage a one-woman play of Larissa’s story, and Natasha invites Larissa to come see it. Larissa, a cigarette-smoking widow, is colorfully drawn, though her blunt, mean-spirited dialogue often reduces her to a cliché: the baby is “hideous” and “rat-faced”; Larissa’s sister was “smelly” and “spoiled”; Stas looks like an “impudent long-haired homosexual.” Clear parallels between Larissa’s adolescent crushes and Natasha’s marriage are made unnecessarily explicit, as when Natasha asks if Larissa regrets her choice of whom to marry. While the characters can be lively, there’s not enough to hold readers’ interest. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary. (Apr.)