Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

“The collection’s subtitle, Love Stories, is apt not in the sense that many people end up with love and happiness, but in the sense that the characters — uniformly underpaid, underhoused, underappreciated, and low on groceries — have nothing to hope for but love, the one resource that can’t be rationed. They live in cramped city apartments, assigned to them by the state, with one or two generations of their family, and work in thankless jobs. The most depressing love affairs — emotionless, unrequited, exploitative — shine with promise in these settings.”

Today, Janet Potter reviews Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself for us.

I dropped into the library on a whim and found this - since reading Petrushevskaya’s short story collection There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby a couple of months ago I’ve wanted to get my hands on more of her work. This is her newest collection, There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself. I love these books for their titles if nothing else (but there’s plenty more to love. Trust me. Just read them.)

(Go on.)

July Reading...so far

For the past week, I’ve been moping around covered in Icy Hot and slightly high off of pain killers due to a weird back injury so I’ve been reading like a champ. Let’s see if I can keep this up for the rest of the year, minus the crippling back pain.

#15: There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. So, this was really weird. It’s a collection of “scary” fairy tales. They are stark, simple and genuinely kind of horrifying. Beware.

#16: The Collected Stories of Carson McCullers. Carson McCullers is a god to me since she gave the world The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and changed my love of literature forever. Her stories are equally as beautiful. If you’re a fan, these stories are essential to your life.

#17: When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. I’m like 40% sure I read this book already so I don’t know if it’s a good thing that I couldn’t really remember? Either way, I always enjoy Sedaris for some light, entertaining writing and he does it well.

#18: When a Woman Loves a Man by David Lehman. I’ve been on a poetry binge for the past week and this was satisfying. I’m definitely on the hunt for more of his work.

#19: The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins. Billy Collins is my favorite poet currently alive today so I’ve never read anything written by him that I didn’t love. This wasn’t my favorite collection but it was still perfect.

The cycles are written in very different keys, making them difficult to classify, but a subtitle Petrushevskaya used for one of her longer fantastic tales, “The Possibilities of Menippea,” points to a common source. The ancient Greek Menippus once visited Hades, and since then the satirical genre named after him has often been said to include visits to the literal or social underworld. These visits are called nekyia, a night journey. …In this collection, nearly every story is a form of nekyia. Characters depart from physical reality under exceptional circumstances: during a heart attack, childbirth, a major psychological shock, a suicide attempt, a car accident. Under tremendous duress, they become propelled into a parallel universe, where they undergo experiences that can only be described allegorically, in the form of a parable or fairy tale.
—  Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Introduction to There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, trans. Keith Gessen & Anna Summers.

‘She didn’t even want to run into that army regiment again, and in fact she didn’t want to see anyone again, or if she did see someone she didn’t want to know who it was, hoped she be unable to distinguish between the young, pale, calm faces in the circle dance, flying free like her - and hoping not to meet anyone at all anymore, in this kingdom of the dead, and hoping never to learn just how much they grieved in that other kingdom, of the living.’

Once upon a time I thought Angela Carter’s work was dark, then I picked up this book and realised that things could get a whole lot worse. 

Most of the stories centre around death in all its forms and they’re just so strange and eerie, I want to read Petrushevskaya’s newest book, There Once Was a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself, but I have to wait arghHhh.

The Secret Canon of Jessica M

1. Geek Love– Katherine Dunn

2. Collected Stories of Flannery O'Connor

3. Housekeeping– Marilynne Robinson

4. The Last Unicorn– Peter S. Beagle

5. There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill her Neighbor’s Baby– Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

6. Speak– Laurie Halse Anderson

7. Poetry of Wislawa Szymborska

8. Poetry of Philip Larkin

9. The Secret History– Donna Tartt

10. Cyrano de Bergerac– Edmond Rostand

Last week I bought There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband And He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. It’s a collection of seventeen short stories and I really loved it. Perfect gift for Valentine’s Day, if the person that receives it is into love stories that are “both depraved and sublime”, as the back cover says. My favorite stories are:

•The Goddess Parka
•Like Penelope
•Hallelujah, Family
•Give Her to Me
•Young Berries
•Eros’s Way
•Happy Ending

2

Final sentences: 

It was in a dream, though, that it happened, and dreams don’t count.

From “The Fountain House

[She walked lightly and happily, not crying, not thinking about the future, not worrying about anything.] As though she’d passed the hardest test of her life.

from “The Miracle

And here, on the face of the dying woman, she saw a smile slowly dawn.

From “Revenge