So after Cloud Atlas, I’d intended to hop right into the second Steig Larsson book and then into The Shadow of the Wind… but I needed a palate cleanser. I needed something light, something that wouldn’t require much investment – and what better place to turn than a short story collection?
I’d been hearing about this collection for some time – this woman is apparently the best Russian author I’ve never heard of. Plus, I love scary fairy tales. So it seemed like a great fit! It also only took me a day to read, so it was the ideal in-between book.
The stories are, for the most part, not all that scary. They’re all based in psychological issues, which I found interesting. Near-death and insanity plots were rampant. Also, there were a lot of mothers and wives – very few men carried the lead. A definite recurring theme was parents and children, as well. I found that really interesting and it pulled the book together into a somewhat cohesive whole, even though none of the stories connected.
There were four “types” of stories – Songs of the Eastern Slavs, Allegories, something else, and Fairy Tales. The Fairy Tales had the most mystic qualities – disappearing soothsayer-types, magic huts in the forest, etc. They were all very traditional. The Songs essentially set the scene – short little stories, all of which were very enjoyable. It was the middle sections that had the most intriguing stories. Petrushevskaya’s “The New Robinson Crusoes” is apparently one of her most famous stories, yet I think I actually liked it the least. It was vaguely post-apocalyptic and it was a good story in its own right, but it didn’t seem to fit with this collection.
The titular story, the story about the plague, and “There is Someone in the House” were my favorites. The right amount of creepy, the right amount of not-quite-reality, and the right pacing made all of them terrific. I would love to read them at Halloween.
I also, to wrap up, loved how ambiguous the endings to many of these stories were. The intro talks about it in terms of the ‘turn of the screw’ – that is, whether or not it goes in one direction or the other. The ambivalence is nice because it leaves you wanting more and it also leaves you a little shaken. Good scary stories ought to do that.
Rating: 4 out of 5. A really solid collection of spooky stories. Not amazing-drop-what-you’re-doing, read-them-every-Halloween like Ray Bradbury’s From the Dust Returned, but still quite good. Yes, I had to shift my reading schedule but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do – and this was perfect.
Once Upon A Time IV: I’m pretty sure this challenge ended June 1 – but whatever! Maybe its the end of June? I hope? (edit: it is! June 20th! brilliant!) This is my entry for “fairy tales” – pretty self-explanatory, I think. I think the story that best sold it was the story with the magic hut in the middle of the woods – very fairy story!