There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband and He Hanged Himself
Short Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Translated by Anna Summers
2013 / 192 Pages
Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s most recent collection of stories depict women who are searching high and low for love and intimacy. Whether it’s through marriage, one night stands, or office flings, the characters are motivated by a strong desire for emotional fulfillment that usually ends in heartbreak or devastation
It’s a rather bleak notion, but you also get the sense that it’s fairly commonplace in Petrushevskaya’s world. Stories of quietly unhappy marriages and unlikely courtships fill the pages – aspects of modern romance that are not at all uncommon. But Petrushevskaya writes with a sense of detached urgency as we witness these personal tragedies. The stories are not all that compelling on an individual level, but as a collection, the book reveals a deeper, more universal truth about unhappiness and failed relationships.
The narrative style is quite reminiscent of old folklore and fairy tales, which further accentuates the universality of such notions. Couples and families have been unhappy together since the beginning of time, and as far as we’ve come in our modernization and technological innovations, the heart is still a mystifying enigma. What plagues the characters of this collection most is a desperate lack of communication, which as we all know, has the potential to curse any happy relationship. And, as the title would suggest, no one gets a happy ending. But at the same time, there’s something curiously playful about these tales – as if Petrushevskaya is cynically aware of the inability to avoid an unhappy fate, and her characters are mere pawns in the cruel game of love and life.
These “love stories” are loosely interwoven, and characters come and go, but no one is really a protagonist. In short, it is what it is – and it’s usually pretty miserable. Petrushevskaya’s collection isn’t exactly a breath of fresh air, but in a world where cinema is dominated by Nicholas Sparks and other horrific romantic comedies, these stories remind us of love’s capacity to slowly and steadily destroy.