Leo Tolstoy said it best: All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Don’t we all have that one crazy family member who tells grossly inappropriate jokes and stories at the dinner table? Or that one sibling that we are insanely jealous of? Or what about your bratty niece or nephew that you just wish you could trip as they run by screaming?
I think the best thing about family is that it’s a classic….just like Tolstoy. Most people can relate to family and that’s what makes Ludmilla Petrushevskaya latest novel such a captivating read.
Petrushevskaya’s collection of short stories, There Once Lived a Mother, features three different dark stories about family. The first story which takes up most of the book is, The Time is Night. This story is about a grandmother caring for her daughter’s child and it is very dark and bleak.
The second (which was my favorite) was titled Chocolates with Liquor which is about a woman whose husband is trying to kill her. And then the last is Among Friends which is about the lives and families of a group of friends who meet every Friday night.
The Chocolates with Liquor reminded me of Edgar Alan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado….I LOVED it. The woman’s husband was a dark, deeply disturbed man who poisoned his wife and children with a box of chocolates. Though very disturbing and dark, it was suspenseful and though at times I was confused by what was going on, the conclusion explained everything.
I read this book on the heals of The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons which was also set in Russia, but at a different time period. I was surprised to see many similarities and themes in both books. I think that’s why I enjoyed this one so much because I could really get a feel for what life was and is still like in Russia.
For an American, it’s difficult to imagine a world where communal living is still widely practiced and worrying about food is a very real issue. Not to mention a society where women are still not valued and seen as whores and helpmates.
Petrushevskaya captures this feeling in a very unique way with her short stories. This is the second collection of novellas that I have read by her. The first was There Once Lived a Girl who Seduced her Sister’s Husband which I loved and now this.
I think in some ways I related to this one more, mostly because I have spent this read reading a lot of books set in Russia so the cultural parts were a little easier to understand. But I think one of the reasons I liked this one better was the family aspect.
These are stories about every day people and while some of the things that happen to them might be extraordinary for some readers…..for others they are a reality.
What I love about her novellas is they are often about women facing very real struggles in post Soviet Russia society. And while I don’t know anything about life in post Soviet Russia, the struggles these women face I can relate to. These women are struggling to be wives, mothers, they are facing issues within their families and in society and I think that many women readers regardless of culture can identify in some ways with these themes.
Some times the stories can get a little confusing and I am not sure if that’s just the translation or if it’s a cultural style or what but sometimes I did find the stories a little confusing.
I found this to also be the case in Petrushevskaya’s previous novel that I read. While her novellas are captivating and alluring, at times I was wondering how we got from one moment to the next….like did I miss something? I am thinking it’s the translation. Thankfully though, the ending always wrapped things up nicely….or not so nicely but you get the gist.
I will say one thing, Petrushevskaya’s style isn’t for everyone. She has a very dark, horrific, blunt way of story telling but it’s exciting and refreshing at the same time. It’s so unique and if you are thinking about broadening your reading pallet this year then I highly recommend Petrushevskaya’s novellas.
In many ways Petrushevskaya reminded me of a cross between Edgar Alan Poe and Leo Tolstoy…..like Tolstoy, Petrushevskaya wrote about the conditions of the Russian people. She made sure the reader was aware of the living conditions and the politics of the era and region. It wasn’t just a collection of stories about family, but about the human condition and socioeconomic climate of Russia. And she writes with the dark, raw, gritty reality of Poe. An erotic and alluring combination.
I would gladly review and and all of her books, they are so unique and evocative that I can’t pass them up!
Paperback, 208 pagesPublished October 28th 2014 by Penguin Books
- Review copy provided by: Viking/Penguin Books in exchange for an honest review
This book counts toward: NA
- Hosted by: NA
- Books for Challenge Completed: NA
Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5
Genre: Contempo Lit, short stories
Memorable lines/quotes: NA