I think it’s almost funny how unmoved I was by this book, like a stone woman.
Reading a book in one sitting is usually best for me. I cried over Of Mice and Men after a strong afternoon of migrant workers and big-pawed Lennie. I tend to spend tea time with Alice Monroe on my porch and drink up the sun, the words, the seep. Then there is, of course, Hunger Games in a weekend where I ate only strawberries. Gasped through New Moon at a disney resort where the poolside bartender gave us drinks without seeing our IDs, “all you need girls, is your room key.” I usually have favorable outcomes with books that I spend a day with. It’s almost like a day trip, we’ve driven this far, my feet are making toe prints on the windshield glass and the air in the pine trees make the words whisper.
And then the New York Times reviewed the book. Elissa Schappell wrote the review in the Times that makes me feel like I no can longer wear the stiff garter of the feminist. She discusses the metaphor of “Soviet women as the human workhouses they were.” I suppose I was wrong when I thought they lived in castles. The things I know about Russia can be counted on two hands: ballet, ice skating, mail-order brides, no more American adoptions, Chernobyl, WWII, winter, Russian sables, and the ideal of blondeness. Forgive me, any Russian readers, I desperately need an education. It’s as if they leave the wholeness of the country out of our school books, as Americans. At first, I thought this was the very reason that I didn’t really “get” the book. I thought I was lost because my Russian history wasn’t fine-tuned. I’ve never even traveled to Europe, never worn fur in the winters, I barely wear gloves.
The closest I came to Russia was when my high school best friend taught me to say I love you by squeezing my hand before we went to bed. She would squeeze three times to say she loved me, and I would squeeze back four, tight compact squeezes where the lines in our palms pressed together and made our wrinkles into latitude and longitude. She was taught to do this by a Russian girl that stayed with her family over the summer. They would each have their eyelashes closed to their cheek, be secretly under the covers in matching pajamas and twin pillow cases and find each other’s hands. I learned to say “I love you” silently from a little Russian girl.
Schappell told me that Petrushevskaya’s American break out is a form of “scary fairy tales” and my only references to this are Grimm and Sexton. Schappell mentions the Russian greats and compares Petrushevskaya to Chekov which I missed entirely in the reading of her book. My favorite line from the Times Review though is, “For these women, telling their stories is as necessary as having someone to care for. They tell stories, while waiting in endless lines for bread and trains and promotions that will never come, to feel less lonely. As Joan Didion said, ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live.’”
This is the exact reason why I didn’t adore this book. I gave it 2 stars. I couldn’t even write a review of the book on this blog until I spoke to the women I admire about what they thought on goodreads:
Alena gave it 2.5 stars, a sister to my 2 stars. You can visit Alena’s fabulous book (and other interesting things) blog here. I trust very few people to give me book recommendations and she is ALWAYS a go-to gal.
And then Claire gave voice to the women smoking in the cafe telling these stories. You can read Claire’s amazing blog here. I highly recommend her book blog because she always says just the right thing to make you really analyze a book, or think about what you’ve just read in a new way. I adore her blog and get the email updates every time she posts. I will admit though, I am a poor commenter.
With all that said, do what you must with this book. This is the wonderful thing about books, they cause you to explain yourself and they give different gifts to each reader. I wonder sometimes if loving a book depends on the time you come to a book, or when the book finds you. This book may have rooted if I was a different age, lived in a different time or place, found myself on a train in Japan half-reading and half watching the silent woman with untied boots three seats away.
Either way, somewhere in an off-write bedroom a women is in love with her sister’s husband and every time, every single time, of the twenty-seven times that they’ve encountered each other’s bodies, he silently removes his wedding ring while she adjusts her eyes to the dark.