In Russia, Bitov is an unusual figure, a realistic writer of what on ideological grounds might be considered ""high subjectivism."" His stories in other words (1) are nearly all autobiographical--dealing with an authorial stand-in named Alexei Monakhov (editor Meyer tells us that in Russian monakh means monk--a clue to the rather closed-in nature of this ""hero"") and (2) frequently show Monakhov in common life-stages and activities (childhood, woman-chasing, marriage, suffering writer's block--in the extraordinary title story: sent finally to a prized writer's dacha-retreat, the poor man can't put down a word) but paralyzed by doubt: ""He thought all this was some nightmarish trick, a counterfeit of all desires, feelings, thoughts, because the moment we realize we want something, we no longer want it, but only want it as long as we do not understand what is going on. That desire is not desire in the sense that it can be told about and explained, but something quite different. That desire gets lost somewhere on the way, if not at the first step. . . And what lies have been told about the power of desire and emotion, based on deeds accompanying them, though they bear witness to something quite different, to our inability to cope with them. . ."" This is hardly your average socialist-realist hero, then. Judged by a Western standard, Bitov comes off as a skillfully passionate semi-comedian of distinctly (and maybe overly) sentimental bent; certainly he's not a startling writer like Aksyonov. But in terms of contemporary Soviet writing, he's notable at very least.