Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
selected and translated by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers
A good friend of mine loaned this to me with the words, “This seems appropriate for you!”
She was right of course, especially given the time of year. I had never heard of the author before, although in their introduction the translators claim that she is Russia’s best known living writer, now that Solzhenitsyn is dead…but I’ve never heard of him/her either so apparently (and not surprisingly) there is a wide gap in my literary landscape. Need to work on that. Reading this book is a good first step I suppose.
Anyway, Petrushevskaya writes a wacky tale. Her stories are macabre but mischievous (words stolen from the back of the book because they’re apt and awesome ones!) There are a lot of encounters between the living and the dead in these stories, quite a few near-death experiences, weird time travel and parallel universes. Many seem almost allegorical, but at the same time they are gritty with the reality of a terribly hard life. They tend to focus on women in dire straights or grief-stricken states, but there is an odd hopefulness in many of the stories – hence the fairy tale concept perhaps. Things kinda, sorta work out in the end.
To me, the stories seemed like the creepy, off-kilter dreams I sometimes have, and while reading them I felt as tangled as I do while dreaming those things – and yet in a similar way to knowing that I could wake up, I knew that I was able to put the book down if I chose to. And I chose not to do so.
I’m not certain I really liked the collection. I read it in one gulp, finishing a story and immediately beginning the next, giving myself a shake or giving in to a shudder while my eyes were already tearing into the next page. The stories were compelling, fascinating, appalling, and I liked Petrushevskaya’s style and was impressed by the strangeness of her vividly conjured worlds. I can’t say that I disliked the book either, since there are too many elements that I enjoyed. It was not a comfortable book though. Leave it at that.
I’ll definitely be checking out more of her work, and will make an effort to intensify my foray into Russian literature as a whole.
On the perilous beverage consumption front, I can report that Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest from Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company (Chippewa Falls, WI) is neither the best nor the worst Octoberfest I’ve tried this year, and Smuttynose Brewing Company (Portsmouth, NH) makes a delicious Pumpkin Ale – the right mix of spice, a hint of pumpkin flavor, and plenty of beery goodness.
P. S. I’m counting this book toward R.I.P. V’s Peril the First even though it’s a collection of short stories and should perhaps get filed under Short Story Peril…but I read the whole thing, so I’m counting it as a book. 🙂