Give the author credit for the most attention-grabbing title of the year. As evidenced above, Petrushevskaya, one of Russia’s best-known living writers, likes her fiction grim with a side of macabre. In these 19 tales, the supernatural mingles with the ordinary for reasons the 71-year-old author doesn’t bother to explain. Simply put, these stories are incredibly weird. But they linger in the mind as unsolvable puzzles: mysterious and undeniably seductive.
In several narratives, a dead person comes back to life to haunt or console a loved one. In the title story, a woman plots the death of her friend’s daughter-she’s jealous of the child-and suffers a wicked retaliation. In "The Miracle," a mother finds her son "lying on the floor next to an overturned stool underneath a length of thin synthetic rope." And "The Fountain House" tells the story of a girl who is killed and then resurrected when her father eats a raw human heart. Petrushev-skaya boldly taps into the dark side of human nature. At times, she ventures into the afterlife, as in "A New Soul," where she writes, "It’s the former life that’s always dearest to us. That’s the life colored by sadness, by love-that’s where we left everything connected to what we call our feelings."
While it’s best to think of these tales as bizarre dreamscapes, Petrushevskaya often leaves you wondering whether the ex-periences of her troubled characters are real or imagined, trans-forming what at first appears to be a harsh point of view into winking black comedy.
Although there’s a structural sameness to these stories-a dark beginning, followed by an inevitably shocking and surreal twist at the end-Petrushevskaya is awfully good at those twists. Her suspenseful writing calls to mind the creepiness of Poe and the psychological acuity (and sly irony) of Chekhov. And when she goes full-on gruesome, as in "Hygiene"-about a rat-carried epidemic-well, Stephen King should watch his back. -Carmela Ciuraru
Buy it here.