FOUR SISTERS by James Fritzhand


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Don't be fooled by the Chekhovian title--or by the cameo appearances of Turgenev and Tolstoy. This Russian family saga, 1881-1903, is standard melodrama/romance fare (if somewhat seamier than most period bustles), with no attempt to evoke the textures and depths of the great Russian writers. Fritzhand's four sisters are the daughters of grouchy landowner Petrov and his hypochondriacal, dithering, selfish wife. Calm, wise Irena--the eldest--stays happily married to an ambitious, liberal civil servant (he'll have a brief affair with a bohemian Princess), but the others will all have misery-wracked lives. Ungainly, haughty, visionary Henriette leaves home to escape marriage to an old general, becomes a discontented governess (sleeping with her boss), and Winds up as crazed bedmate/disciple to Rasputin (she introduces him to the Tsarina). Beautiful, noble, consumptive Masha loves revolutionary Victor (whose perverted father is murder-mutilated by the peasants), but she marries kind Capt. Danchenko when Victor is arrested and reported dead; and when Danchenko is killed in a duel with evil Trigony, Masha devotes her life to revenge, eventually seducing and murdering Trigony. . . so she's sent to Siberia (where she meets--who else?--Victor!). And pretty, spoiled Vera marries sexually well-endowed, opportunistic Simon Belinsky: when he drags her down into poverty, she goes home to Petrovka (where she'll go mad and immolate herself), while Simon becomes a police informer who infiltrates Lenin's rebel group. Not enough spice and woe? Well, there's also a brother: homosexual Gregor, artsy but lonely in Petersburg. Fritzhand (primarily a paperback writer) goes around and around, from one plot to another, moving the plots along competently--with some ludicrous coincidences but few surprises. And though the narration is slightly more literate than customary in pop costume-drama, the clichÉ-heavy dialogue and the cardboard-neurotic characters often seem more Scarsdale-suburban than Tsarist Russia. Not particularly atmospheric, then (despite dollops of social history), and not for those who like their family soaps warm and friendly; but, for somewhat kinkier and grittier tastes, a serviceable and agreeably bulky saga-by-the-numbers.

Pub Date: July 22nd, 1981
Publisher: Morrow