Posted by: Sally Ingraham | October 13, 2010

R.I.P. V: There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby

petrushevskayaScary 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.

peril the firstP. 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. 🙂


  1. I have this, just haven’t cracked it open yet. I don’t mind an uncomfortable book. 🙂

    • Neither do I! This one had a good balance between the freaky and the everyday that made it really interesting.

  2. I was interested in this book when I first heard about it but I wasn’t sure what the translation would be like (I’m becoming increasingly picky about things like that). Sounds like you had no problem with the prose, though, so I’ll probably give this one a try! ‘Tis the season for spooky books after all!

    • I wish I knew how to be picky about translation! It’s so hard for me to comprehend what is the author’s original voice and what is the translator’s impact on that. I definitely know when I like the prose though, so perhaps that is the most important.

  3. Two comments to this: 1) love the comparison of the book to your dreams- such a great analogy, and I totally understand what you mean. 2) Smuttynose?? HAHAH! Really? That’s awesome.

    • Great name for a brewery, right? And they make decent beer across the board, so that’s good too.

  4. Just the title is enough to make me interested 🙂 And my Russian literature is one of my literary gaps too.

    • The title certainly grabbed me! It’s so brutally blatant – scary fairy tales indeed.

  5. That cover creeps me out. I know exactly what you mean when you say creepy, weird dreams…I’m not sure I want to enhance them with more imagery though haha. May give it a try anyhow 😛

    Great review 🙂

    • Oddly enough, I really enjoy those dreams – they’re never scary enough to quality as nightmares, and they seem to have a vividness and creativity that far surpasses my normal ones – exactly like Petrushevskaya’s stories!

  6. i’m with Escapist.. that cover is Creepy!

    your review intrigues me, I’d seen the book in passing, but the dream-like descriptor appeals. thanks for the post


    • Yeah, the font for the title looks like some kind of deranged scrawl… And that head on the pedestal looks so weird. Creepy indeed – and hopefully enticing enough to capture your attention!

  7. Glad you enjoyed it, Sarah. I’m alternating between Petrushevskaya, Poe, and Punk (Dogfish Head’s version of pumpkin ale). All three are terrifyingly delicious!

    • Wow, great combo. I’ve reterned to Poe as well – and I’ve discovered a new pumpkin beer that rivals Dogfish Head’s, if you can believe it! 🙂

  8. This sounds right up my alley! I have never heard of it before, so thanks for the review!

    • Hope you enjoy it when you get to it. 🙂

  9. […] – Books: The Haunting of Hill House Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby Salem […]

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