A stripper unwittingly becomes a sexual surrogate for a wealthy Russian immigrant and his paralyzed wife in Pelzman’s beautifully rendered debut.
Perla is looking for a way out of her dead-end job at a Ft. Lauderdale strip club when she leads Julian Pravdin to the Champagne Room for a private dance. Narrating in the present tense, the pretty Cuban-American is so street-smart that we believe her when she says it’s safe to follow the stranger to the parking lot and, eventually, his hotel. Julian has a soft spot for strippers. Forced into a Siberian orphanage after his father’s death sent his mother on a downward spiral of drug abuse and prostitution, he escaped by drawing on the fighting instincts he inherited from his father, a hunter. Here and elsewhere, Julian’s brutality comes into play, but he never loses the reader's sympathy. He grows up to be a respectable businessman in New York, where he lives with his wife, and though a third-person narrator tells Julian's back story, guarding his thoughts, it’s clear that neither entitlement nor boredom are behind his affair with Perla. His wife, Sophie, is adjusting to a new reality after being paralyzed from the waist down. The initially jarring introduction of this second heroine brings the simmering plot to a boil, revealing it to be a character study in the aftermath of tragedy. Pelzman has a well of sympathy for his characters—the sponge baths Sophie gets from her nurse are every bit as intimate and sensual as the clandestine meetings between Julian and Perla. When the stripper threatens the delicate balance of her marriage, Sophie uses the only weapons she has—her helplessness and ability to elicit pity—to hold on to what’s left of her life. The word troika describes a group of three or a Russian carriage pulled by three horses. With unflinching honesty, the author goes to the source of Julian’s violence, Perla’s emotional detachment and Sophie’s manipulation to show how a third horse could work in a two-horse marriage.
Riveting drama and sensuous prose make for an unforgettable love story.