There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, And He Hanged Himself: Love Stories – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
By turns sly and sweet, burlesque and heartbreaking, these realist fables of women looking for love are the stories that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya—who has been compared to Chekhov, Tolstoy, Beckett, Poe, Angela Carter, and even Stephen King—is best known for in Russia. Here are attempts at human connection, both depraved and sublime, by people in all stages of life: one-night stands in communal apartments, poignantly awkward couplings, office trysts, schoolgirl crushes, elopements, tentative courtships, and rampant infidelity, shot through with lurid violence, romantic illusion, and surprising tenderness.
Review: This review is for the English translation of a Russian short story collection.
The title and synopsis sound so promising! The book wasn’t for me, though.
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s characters are looking for love in desperate places. They live in extreme poverty or in overcrowded communal apartments. They work in dead-end jobs or are mentally unbalanced. Many of them have given up hope. Their love affairs are bizarre, unrequited, awkward, dangerous. Despite the flashes of humor, most of the stories in this collection don’t have endings you’d call “happy.”
“‘Once, at the dacha, years ago,’” she said, “‘we all decided to go mushroom picking, and our neighbor Vera—she was at least eighty at the time—dashed over to the mirror and started painting her lips. My mother said to her, ‘Aunt Vera, we are going to the woods; who’s the lipstick for?’ And Vera replied—I’ll never forget it—‘Who knows? Maybe that’s where it will happen!’” - There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, And He Hanged Himself: Love Stories
Petrushevskaya writes about people who are often overlooked in society. They’re not heroes. They’re average people who are just trying to survive in Soviet or post-Soviet Russia. I like seeing the impact that an oppressive government has on the characters’ lives. The government is rarely mentioned in the stories, but it’s always there, hovering over every choice the characters make. The stories have a bleak, heavy tone.
The characters’ lifestyles interested me, but I never felt connected to any of them because there is a lot of distance between the reader and the characters. Most of the stories read like brief anecdotes or outlines rather than short stories. They’re sparsely written and repetitive. All of them are about love gone wrong (or slightly right). They all have the same depressing tone. The stories often ended before I had a chance to fully absorb what was happening. If you want to read this collection, be prepared to read between the lines. The writing just skims the surface. Most of the action is left off the page.
I finished this book several days ago, and none of the stories stand out in my mind. This might be because Love Stories took me months to read. I never felt motivated to pick it up. The author’s writing style just didn’t grab me.
Even though I didn’t get along with the writing, I want to read more of Petrushevskaya’s work. I know she has a book of novellas and a book of fairytales. I think I’d have an easier time connecting to her characters in a longer piece of writing. Also, her writing style might work better in a fairytale because a lot of fairytales are sparsely written and don’t have much explanation of the events that happen.
Love Stories wasn’t for me, but I’m willing to try another book.
“She keeps looking up, not meeting his eyes—the sign of a serious crush, by the way.” - There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, And He Hanged Himself: Love Stories