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A short, pseudonymous novella, set around the Russian Revolution, now republished 45 years after it first saw print in Russian. The narrator, Vadim Maslennikov, is a penurious student whose long-suffering mother scrapes together pennies for his schooling. (Vadim repays her with scorn.) School provides the cruel pleasures of conformity as well as an introduction to a remarkable peer: Burkewitz, an eloquent and Tolstoyan war-resister. Vadim himself, however, though a heel and seducer, is too weak and parasitical to be a true iconoclast. His married mistress Sonya torments him with her independence. So then, when he's introduced to cocaine by friends (in a humorous, unforced scene), Vadim is happy to discover an access to pleasure that requires no preparatory work, no real effort. A short chapter evoking the drug horrors of coming-down soon follows. And, throughout, Ageyev's prose offers fragments of fine style: ""There were noisy boulevards where military bands would play and red-lizard trams float to heaven in the shiny-brass of the instruments; where passersby, strolling to a minatory march, would fall willynilly into step, mortified, as into a pit of shame. . . and where, toward evening, while the trumpets sang of Faust, the bells of a nearby church struck up their clear, piercing chime, as if to foretoken an impending clap of velvet thunder that would make the waltzing trumpets sound unbearably false."" But, despite some interesting Moscow atmospheres and a good clinical detail or two, this brief, disjointed study in antiheroic behavior generates no dramatic or emotional momentum--and the curiosity-value of the early-20th-century cocaine addiction is a very minor, undeveloped attraction.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1984
ISBN: 0810117096
Publisher: Dutton