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There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales Paperback – September 29, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Original edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143114662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143114666
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #177,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Masterworks of economy and acuity, these brief, trenchant tales by Russian author and playwright Petrushevskaya, selected from her wide-ranging but little translated oeuvre over the past 30 years, offer an enticement to English readers to seek out more of her writing. The tales explore the inexplicable workings of fate, the supernatural, grief and madness, and range from adroit, straightforward narratives to bleak fantasy. Frequently on display are the decrepit values of the Soviet system, as in The New Family Robinson, where a family tries to outsmart everyone by relocating to a ramshackle cabin in the country. Domestic problems get powerful and tender treatment; in My Love, a long-suffering wife and mother triumphs over her husband's desire for another woman. Darker material dominates the last section of the book, with tortuous stories, heavy symbolism and outright weirdness leading to strange and unexpected places. Petrushevskaya's bold, no-nonsense portrayals find fresh, arresting expression in this excellent translation. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"A revelation-it is like reading late-Tolstoy fables, with all of the master's directness and brutal authority. . . . A wonderful book."
-James Wood, The New Yorker Book Bench's Best Books of the Year

"Arresting . . . Incantatory . . . Timeless and troubling . . . This exquisite collection [is] vital, eerie and freighted with the moral messages that attend all cautionary tales. . . . [Petrushevskaya] is hailed as one of Russia's best living writers. This slim volume shows why. Again and again, in surprisingly few words, her witchy magic foments an unsettling brew of conscience and consequences."
-The New York Times Book Review

"The book could catch fire in your hands and you'd still try to be turning pages. It's giving me nightmares, in the nicest way possible."
-Jessica Crispin, Bookslut

"Thrillingly strange . . . Brilliantly disturbing . . . The fact that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is Russia's premier writer of fiction today proves that the literary tradition that produced Dostoyevsky, Gogol, and Babel is alive and well."
-Taylor Antrim, The Daily Beast

"What distinguishes the author is her compression of language, her use of detail and her powerful visual sense. . . . Petrushevskaya is certainly a writer of particular gifts."
-Time Out New York

"Fantastic . . . Spooky, compelling . . . Reading [it] was similar to finding a long-lost friend. . . . I would love to summarize every single story and explain its brilliance, but I'd rather you go out, buy this book, and read it for yourself. It's simply one of the best books I've read in quite some time."
-Jessica Ferri, Bookslut

"Macabre, fantastical doses of reality turned inside out by Soviet oppression, a surreal concoction of a society of 'New Robinson Crusoes' shadow-chasing themselves to the far corners of oblivion, deliciously and wildly told."
-Philip Schulz, The New Yorker Book Bench

"Awesomely creepy."
--New York

"The most attention-grabbing title of the year...Undeniably seductive...Her suspenseful writing calls to mind the creepiness of Poe and the psychological acuity (and sly irony) of Chekhov. And when she goes full-on gruesome...well, Stephen King should watch his back."
--More

"As bleak as Beckett, as astringent as witch hazel, as poetic as your finest private passing moments...There Once Lives a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby gave me nightmares. This celebrated Russian author is so disquieting that long after Solzhenitsyn had been published in the Soviet Union, her fiction was banned--even though nothing about it screams 'political' or 'dissident' or anything else. It just screams...If there's any justice, this humble paperback will be greeted as the pinnacle of modern literature that it is -but as Petrushevskaya would be the first to say, to hope for justice is to invite mockery. Better just to keep your head down and write...like this."
--Elle

"Mysteries, nightmares, magic: these stories are the fever dreams of a nation stricken by public disorder and personal anomie. They establish Ludmilla Petrushevskaya as one of the greatest writers in Russia today and a vital force in contemporary world literature."
--KEN KALFUS, author of A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

"Thrilling, delicious, and shuddersome. Lucky readers (I am one) reading Petrushevskaya for the first time will quickly recognize a master of the short story form, a kindred spirit to writers like Angela Carter and Yumiko Kurahashi. This is a feast of a book."
--KELLY LINK, author of Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen

"There is no other writer who can blend the absurd and the real in such a scary, amazing and wonderful way."
--LARA VAPNYAR, author of Ther Are Jews in My House and Memoirs of a Muse

"Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's deceptively simple tales unfold in a shadowy borderland between reality and nightmare, between life and death, where saints and witches walk alongside present-day murderers and drunks, where wintry woods and murky basements become matter-of-fact settings for the end of the world and Christ's second coming. This land is dark, haunted, often terrifying; but every ten or fifteen pages one is suddenly blinded by a bright flash of light-- some small act of humanity, some shy movement of soul, a heartbreaking moment of redemption or revelation--and the memory of that miraculous light lingers for days afterward. This is an extraordinary, powerful collection by a master of the Russian short story."
--OLGA GRUSHIN, author of The Dream Life of Sukhanov
 

Customer Reviews

Her stories are quite often simple, subtle, and horrifying.
Melissa Niksic
Each story is as good, if not better, than the one preceding it, and I imagine I will get even more out of the book when I read it a second time.
Emily Felger
These have the unsatisfying feel of being somehow too vague and incomplete.
MWA

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By SD VINE VOICE on November 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
Twisted, ghostly, and apocalyptic describe these tales, with characters that are on the brink of madness or despair. Most start out like simple, but slightly off folk tales - "There once lived a woman whose son hanged himself," "There once lived a girl who was killed, then brought back to life," "There once lived a girl who found herself in an unknown place, on a cold winter night."

Then suddenly the stories take us out of ordinary existence and into strange, nightmarish worlds, described by the author as "orchards of unusual possibilities."

Some recognizable tropes appear, but the landscape is completely unfamiliar and disconcerting. Instead of a child lost in the woods, we have a father with no children, a husband with no wife. He has no memory of who his family is and yet he keeps searching for them.

"There once lived a father who couldn't find his children. He went everywhere, asked everyone--had his little children come running in here? But whenever people responded with the simplest of questions--'What do they look like?' 'What are their names?' 'Are they boys or girls?'--he didn't know how to answer. He simply knew that his children were somewhere, and he kept looking."

What starts out seemingly as a ghost story, There's Someone in the House, becomes something quite different. Who or what is the woman in the house battling against? A ghost, her daughter or herself?

"...Someone is secretly, soundlessly creeping from room to room. That's how it seems.

The woman doesn't tell anyone about her poltergeist: It's still hiding, not knocking, not causing mischief, not setting anything on fire. The refrigerator isn't hooping around the apartment; the poltergeist isn't chasing her into a corner.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Emily Felger on October 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'd heard good things about this book, so when I saw it at the bookstore the other day, I picked it up, and didn't put it down until I finished it that evening. The stories read more like fairy tales than traditional ghost stories. They all have an otherworldly quality, but sometimes the supernatural element does not appear until the end, and often she leaves questions unanswered. The worlds Petrushevskaya describes are bleak, spooky, and thoroughly believable. Unlike many short story collections, these stories never felt uneven. Each story is as good, if not better, than the one preceding it, and I imagine I will get even more out of the book when I read it a second time.

I'd definitely recommend this book to fans of Angela Carter of Kelly Link, or a horror buff looking to read something a little more "literary".
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Deborah L. Clayton on November 13, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read a review of this book in the local paper but I have to admit, it was the title that lead me to buy it. The book is full of short stories that take you down a path and at the end you say "whoa, didn't see that coming." This author is someone I will definitely buy more of - she definitely has an off kilter view of the world.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By MWA on January 27, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This collection of stories with a darker edge is an interesting but not totally captivating take on Russian life during the Cold War period. The best stories are those rendered in fairy-tale format such as the title story,the stories that do not work as well are the "ghost" or dream-scape stories. These have the unsatisfying feel of being somehow too vague and incomplete. Perhaps it is more attributable to the choices made by the Editors of the book than to the Author,but the collection as a whole fails to hang together.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David R. Anderson on February 22, 2013
Format: Paperback
Nineteen Stems from the "Orchard of Unusual Possibilities"

Every summer, the spirit of Hans Christian Andersen comes alive at the festival that bears his name in Sestri Levante, Italy. Devoted to the performance of modern folk tales, many of which delve into the paranormal, the festival is a place where one might expect to see theater works adapted from Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's urban folk tales. Her stories, like Andersen's, have their source in the classical Greek tradition of "nekyia" which "involve extraordinary situations like near-death experiences and borderline states," ie. "unusual possibilities."

The editors of "There Once Lived a Woman" -- to whom I'm indebted for the explanation of the origin of such tales -- divide the stories into four groups: Songs of the Eastern Slavs," "Allegories," "Requiems," and "Fairy Tales." The editors state that characters in nearly all the stories "depart from physical reality under exceptional circumstances" to the point "where what happens next can only be described allegorically. . .in the form of a parable or fairy tale."

Petrushevskaya, a master of the genre, manages to put the paranormal within easy reach while at the same time calling attention to the bleaker, more squalid aspects of Russian life, particularly for women. "There's Someone in the House", the last story in the "Requiems" group, is a good example. The central character, a "little human roach [left] completely by herself, unprotected," hears things in the house at night, fears the worst, then comes undone in the effort to rid her home of the intruder.
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