cover image The Time: Night

The Time: Night

Ludmila Petrushevskaya, Liudmila Petrushevskaia, Ludm Petrushevskaya. Pantheon Books, $20 (155pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43616-4

Since she appeared on the Russian literary scene in the 1970s, Petrushevskaya has produced a steady outpouring of short stories and plays; today, she is generally considered to be one of the finest living Russian writers. This novel, the first of her works to appear in America, portrays the gritty, day-to-day life of ordinary Russians. The loosely structured narrative consists of a manuscript written by the now deceased Anna Andrianovna, a minor poet, interspersed with diary entries by Anna's feckless daughter, Alyona. Anna is desperately trying to hold on to her small apartment in Moscow while fending off the relentless demands of her two grown children and their families. Andrei, her son, is a petty crook recently released from prison; out of work and unable to free himself from a bad crowd, he constantly hits up his mother for money and threatens to move back home. Meanwhile, Alyona, who has a knack for involving herself with unsuitable men and getting pregnant, alternates between living at home and, after dumping her children with Anna, simply disappearing. And then there's Anna's senile mother, who clearly belongs in an institution. Petrushevskaya focuses on Anna's increasingly desperate situation and her conflicted feelings about her role as a mother, a daughter, a woman and a poet. While the facts of the story are relentlessly depressing, the author's signature black humor and matter-of-fact prose result in an insightful and sympathetic portrait of a family in crisis. (Sept.)