Petrushevskaya’s (There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, 2009) short stories transform the mundane into the near surreal, pausing only to wink at the absurdity of it all.
The literary collection opens with an informed and knowledgeable introduction by translator Summers, a literary editor born in Moscow. Petrushevskaya, first celebrated as a journalist and a playwright with her prose only published after glasnost, here writes of characters, women most eloquently, mired in environs so dull as to focus their attention toward drink, sex and, most critical of all, a decent apartment in which to live. In “A Murky Fate,” a lonely spinster pleads with her mother for privacy to entertain a lover; “insensitive and crude,” yet an assignation that brings fulfillment. In “The Goddess Parka,” a penniless provincial schoolteacher is seduced by his vacation landlord’s distant cousin. “Like Penelope” chronicles an alliance between Oksana, “a girl beloved by her mother but no one else,” and Mischa, whose hand-me-downs Oksana wore. In “Two Deities,” an older woman and young man contemplate their son, the product of a “few minutes of half-naked passion on the cramped kitchen sofa.” The most unconventional is “Hallelujah, Family!” four lives laid out in a list of the 45 notes. Then comes “Give Her to Me,” about a struggling composer and lyricist but beyond the starving artist cliché. In “Milgrom,” a Lithuanian beauty is robbed of her son. The four concluding stories are “The Adventures of Vera,” “Ero’s Way,” “Young Berries” and “A Happy Ending,” where an STD infects a marriage with hate. In these tales of pessimism and gloom, stoicism and resolution, life real and life absurd, Petrushevskaya delivers 17 stories in four groups, many of them cold, dark and vodka-drenched; some rampant with alcoholism and cruelty; and nearly all struggling in contemplation of soul-damaged men and maternal women.
Think Chekhov writing from a female perspective, burnished by the ennui of a soulless collectivist state, contemplating the influence of culture and politics on love and relationships.