Aetherial Worlds

Tatyana Tolstaya, trans. from the Russian by Anya Migdal. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3277-6
These uniformly masterful stories from Tolstaya (The Slynx) reject any attempt at easy categorization, resulting in a profound, surprising, and rich experience. Some stories, like the title work, which details a narrator named Tatyana’s unhappy experience teaching creative writing to American college students in 1992 and owning a home in New Jersey with endless problems, seem straightforwardly autobiographical. Other stories, such as “The Invisible Maiden,” about memories of a dacha, or “A Young Lady in Bloom,” which recalls a stint delivering telegrams as a student, echo the lyricism of the Russian masters and glow with “the swanlike whiteness of the past.” Others are more essayistic: “The Square” meditates on the frightening painting of the artist Kazimir Malevich; “Official Nationality” modestly distills the Russian character to three bullet points: “boldness, longanimity, and ‘Let’s hope.’ ” Some, such as “The Window,” are surreal allegories in the manner of Gogol. While the works blend fantasy and fact, often within the same story, what unites them all is Tolstaya’s singular and assured voice, capable of beautiful specificity—noticing “the calm blue flower of propane” on a stove—and of surveying history from above and proclaiming, matter-of-factly, that “autocracy is basically self-explanatory.” Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/08/2018
Release date: 03/20/2018
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