Three deceptively simple tales explore the dark terrain of the greedy human soul.
Winner of Russia's Triumph Prize and deft chronicler of beset Muscovites, 76-year-old Petrushevskaya (There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself, 2013, etc.) returns with three bewitching novellas. Although her writing is not overtly political, her gimlet-eyed appraisal of humanity resulted in her work being banned in the Soviet Union for decades. The emotional palette here is gray-toned: love reduced to sex, motherhood to jealousy, empathy to guilt. The ethical dimensions contract; instead of questioning how one ought to behave, Petrushevskaya’s characters simply react, trying to safeguard their meager possessions from suffering relatives. In the longest novella, The Time is Night (previously published as The Time: Night and shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize), an older woman struggles to make financial ends meet and emotional debts balance. Both an insightful poet and a vindictive woman, Anna can at once tenderly care for her grandson and viciously insult her own daughter. The moral quandaries intensify, however, when her son returns home from prison, her daughter hints at moving back home, and her own mother’s bed at the local hospital is lost. The second tale, “Chocolates With Liqueur,” grafts an Edgar Allan Poe motif onto a tale of marital horror. Lelia, a young nurse who has lost her parents and grandfather, manages to carve out a life for herself—that is, until Nikita comes along. Too frightened to reject his advances, Lelia soon finds herself in a loveless, abusive marriage to a man sinking into mental illness. The final novella, Among Friends, traces the Friday night parties of a group of friends. They are bound primarily by their fear of informants and their infatuation with the seductive yet mercurial Marisha. Together, they endure political pressures, broken marriages and deteriorating parents—all of which the shrewd, often calculating narrator observes mercilessly. But there is one betrayal that cannot be endured.
Infernal, haunting monologues.