cover image Baize-Covered Table with Decanter

Baize-Covered Table with Decanter

Vladimir Makanin, Bladimir Makanin. Readers International, $10.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-930523-66-4

The Czar is long gone, as are Stalin and his Black Marias. But even with the advent of perestroika, the interrogation remains a staple Russian nightmare. Makanin creates a chilling slice of life with a man's run-on ruminations on past and future interrogations while he undergoes one. The tactics are familiar, as are the people gathered around the table to badger him. They are stock characters whose lives he imagines down to the last detail: the Proletarian Firebrand whose ``bulbous wife'' takes off each year to a resort where she takes lovers who look like him; the ``master of the hunt,'' usually referred to as the One Who Asks the Questions; the Wise Old Man who ``thrives on tragedy'' and so forth. Makanin imbues his narrator with such a strong sense of desperation and entrapment that the reader is quickly swept up in his anxiety. As he tries to sleep the night before the interrogation, past committees, earlier summons, other inquisitions meld together in a confused muddle, since the characters around the table always seem to be the same. Although this is tight writing that never falls into the expository, for an outsider the novel is filled with fascinating details about life in Russia and the alarmingly personal tactics used to elicit information. Tait, the British editor of the journal Glas: New Russian Writing, does an admirable job of retaining consistency in this rewarding novel. (Jan.)