cover image Escape Hatch

Escape Hatch

Vladimir Makanin. Ardis Publishers, $24 (193pp) ISBN 978-0-87501-110-3

Solzhenitsyn meets Kafka in two novellas of surreal bleakness that mark Makanin's U.S. debut. The first, ""Escape Hatch,"" takes place in a city where society has broken down-through war, civil conflict, riot or perhaps just entropy-but a where a cafe-rich consumer society exists pleasantly-and literally-underground. Makanin's stoic everyman hero, Klyucharyov, survives as a refugee, a middleman between the ruined surface and the nostalgically normal bunker community connected by a secret shaft which, to his despair, begins to contract and close off. In the second novella, ""The Long Road Ahead,"" both socialist realism and Brave New World-like dystopias are twisted in the story of a young engineer ""on assignment"" at a synthesized beef factory. The engineer's ethical shock at what really occurs at ""point zero"" on the assembly line is neatly interrupted by an account of a Soviet contemporary of the author's, whose schizophrenia is attuned to cruelty and injustice. Makanin's careful, gray style carries its own intensity, as in his depictions of Klyucharyov's claustrophobic tunneling or the gulag-slaughterhouse's ""point zero"" operations, forming an enigmatic post-Soviet voice. (May) FYI: Makanin won the Booker Russian Novel Prize in 1993 for Baize-covered Table with Decanter.