Threadbare: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s family drama

“Russia is a land of women Homers,” Petrushevskaya has said, and it is this informal narrative tradition of ordinary Russian women which gives shape to this novel.

Such women as the protagonist, Anna, who move us throughout day and night, through the piecemeal actions that patch her story, herself and her family, and who pull us into a bleak drama of family tensions that are quite often comedic. Anna is a struggling poet whose adult children continue to depend on her and use her. And it is through this window that Petrushevskaya’s language shows the striations and micropolitics of the Russian state.

Petrushevskaya’s novella has elements of purposeful realism brought into the domestic sphere. There are many details of Russian poverty, and yet there are glimpses of a life lived, Anna’s engagement with language, for example; her performance at readings. “The time: Night” is repeated throughout the novella and becomes like a rhythmic refrain, in which Anna unspools her thoughts about her family members, a different register each time. Aesthetically, it becomes linked with indoors, the place where she can write.”The time: Night”: and now a further narrative progresses that is not exactly linear.

Even though Anna’s voice is forthright, I think Petrushevskaya’s work has postmodern tendencies in that Anna does not present as a traditional subject. From the beginning it is clear that she is writing to her family from beyond the grave, and is a decentred/deconstructed construct. The conceit here is that her poems and narratives are on scraps of paper and telegrams. Character development is also disruptive in temporal peaks and troughs, and the novella tends to blur the line between tragedy and comedy. However, the force of affect is apparent in Anna’s desire to both connect and sever relations with her family members, and this is perhaps a sign that the gendered subject is in motion in a new way. This is most exemplified by Anna’s harsh questioning and refusal of the ‘mother’ role and, in turn, by her melodramatic swooning over her grandchild, Tima.

squeaking

A month and a move. Changing suburb is like waking up. Like getting hurt, moving crab-like and sunning yourself in the heat of the day. Draw this, hear this taste this? The firemen are gardening today and the other morning fooling around on a segue. Planning is difficult when there is all this to look at and then the bustle down the road is bursting with vim. Markets beckon. Every day the firepeople test their gear at regular intervals, but moments become sonic details, a harried boxing object, the bounce-echo of basketball irregularly played, mostly male voices rising up together in a cry to their engines, water draining. They go out when the community calls. In the summer months, their community is needy and must be reassured as well as saved. Siren tests fold over sensor sounds and truck sirens. The trees squeak with the sirens today, the first thirty-eight degree day of summer. Winding windy.