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In this book of short stories about the uncomfortable aspects of human existence, Ludmilla Petruschevskaya captures with raw, honest, and often heartbreaking accuracy the things that make life both worthwhile and tragic  for the reader to dissect and admire. The reader is at once moved and awed by her usage of prose and style, many times pausing to absorb and appreciate the brilliance of the storytelling before him or her. She writes in a concrete, straight-forward manner that distinguishes her writing. Her depictions of characters, scenes, and moments, come across as short and simple, yet they are complex, astute, and polished. The author’s gritty and authentic approach leaves the characters and story open to the reader for empathy and relatability.

The start of each of the seventeen stories is direct while also inciting emotion in the reader, establishing empathy, and setting up the story to come. By the end of the first paragraph, the author reveals a character’s entire future. Although the character is completely different from the reader, Petrushevskaya gives the reader the impression that the character’s destiny could be his or hers. The reader need only read one sentence to completely feel and understand a whole story. For example, “Like Penelope” begins, “There once lived a girl who was beloved by her mother but no one else.” (23) Before knowing more about the protagonist, Oksana, the reader imagines this girl lives filled with loneliness, sadness, confusion, awkwardness, pain, and hope. For a moment the reader experiences that too. With each new story and every explanation of characters’ plights, the reader thinks and feels along with the story. In this way, the reader gains new insight into what it means live with struggles and flaws.

The text is not only fascinating because of the intricacy of the author’s storytelling, instead it blossoms into a beautiful piece of literature, because it contains the truth about human existence readers often ignore or want to forget. In society, the unwanted traits of the average person, like depression or loneliness, go unnoticed, because these attributes are dismissed by others and masked by the people who possess them. But, for Petruschevskaya secrets and embarrassment are important aspects of a person’s humanity, and they connect us all.  The reader reads and imagines being the girl who is unloved, and he or she knows what it feels like to be ignored or unseen. Through her storytelling Petruschevskaya alternates perspectives by recognizing traits people often reject, and she makes the invisible important and worthy. The reader sees there is beauty in imperfection.

Most times, when reading about unhappy or unfairly treated people, the response is not the realization that people, places, and events are beautiful or poetic. This is, in part, because we learn from society to hide blemishes or weaknesses. Petruschevskaya’s stories are different; however, they show the reader that society can view humanity differently. We have the capacity to see and believe that real people, flaws included, are indeed lovely.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars