Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I’m too cynical to take most stories of happily ever after seriously, and love triangles make me want to puke. This book is different.
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s most excellent collection of love stories, entitled “There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself,” take a dark but humorous view on love and society. Her stories are set in Soviet Russia, and there’s no such thing as a happy ending. Instead, we find crowded apartments and scheming gossips. The characters themselves are the outcasts of society, those already struggling against alcoholism, addiction, and poverty. They see love as a way of improving their lives, and so delude themselves in the name of a dream rather than exercising some basic common sense.
Petrushevskaya’s tone reminds me a bit of Chekhov. Her stories give little glimpses into her characters’ lives–the man who goes on vacation and enters a relationship with an elderly woman, who loves him because he reminds her of the son that she’d lost, or the seamstress Milgrom who was abandoned by her husband and family, but whose services represent hope to a young woman on the brink of adulthood, who commissions her to make a slinky black dress so she can begin her dating life. Then there’s Karapenko, a young theater student who has an affair with her mentor and gets pregnant. The stories seem incomplete, and represent a moment or a chapter in each character’s life. We don’t see the full story, and that’s part of the beauty of Petrushevskaya’s writing style.
At the same time, Petrushevskaya’s end goal isn’t to be depressing. Her stories poke fun at Soviet society, but her characters are still sympathetic and resonated with me very well. They see a lack of hope or possibility in their own lives, and so seek to improve them through romance, no matter how imperfect it might be, and you can’t really fault them for it.
I would highly recommend this collection to anyone interested in Russian literature or culture, or anyone who just likes the idea of a collection of love stories gone wrong.