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In this book of short stories about love, loss, and everything in between, Ludmilla Petruschevskaya captures through raw, honest, and often heartbreaking accuracy the smallest details that make life both worthwhile and tragic. The author finds ways to repeatedly describe simple moments, scenes, and characters using unique qualities that distinguish her writing.

Each of the seventeen stories in this compilation begin with subtle yet poignant deliveries. I was enthralled that limited word usage could carry so much weight by making me feel deeply while completely setting up the story to come. By then end of the first paragraph, the author had allowed me to imagine a character’s entire future in the story: this would be that person’s destiny and could be yours or mine. I experienced many emotions and empathy from a single idea contained within a sentence.  The story “Like Penelope” begins, “There once lived a girl who was beloved by her mother but no one else.” (p. 23) Before knowing more about the protagonist, Oksana, I believed this girl must live a life filled with loneliness, sadness, confusion, awkwardness, pain, and hope. For a moment I felt that too. With each new story and every explanation given for Petruschevskaya’s characters’ plights, the reader thinks and feels along with the story.

The text is not only fascinating because of the complexity hidden inside the simplicity of the author’s storytelling, instead it blossoms into a beautiful piece of literature, because it contains the truth readers often ignore or want to forget. In society the life of the office slut or unwed male teacher in his thirties, go unnoticed because they’re written off as uneventful. But, for Petruschevskaya everyone has value. A minute encounter can lead to an unlikely pairing and evolve into emotion, which is then dissected through the lens of the storyteller. From the right perspective the invisible becomes important, the unfortunate are woven into the stars of love stories.

Before reading this book of gritty and sad short stories, I might not have considered its people, places, and events beautiful or poetic.  This is, in part, because I learned from society that only the love found in fairytales should be valued. As I reread Petruschevskaya’s stories, I began to think that society could view love differently. Then we all might realize, that in their own special ways, the characters and the things that happen to them in There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, And He Hanged Himself are indeed lovely.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars