New Novellas About Family

Jenny Offil in The New York Times:

BookIt is hard to resist Ludmilla Petrushev­skaya’s darkly comic new collection of ­novellas, “There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In.” The suffocating domestic life she renders so vividly begins before you even open the book. The cover itself is cleverly claustrophobic with the title crammed above a drawing of an unhappy family staring at a picked-over roast.

This sense of scarcity and deprivation recurs in all the stories, each of them set in the bleak Soviet-era communal housing blocks, known as kommunalkas, where multiple families, sometimes related, sometimes not, were placed in a single apartment and forced to share kitchen and bathroom quarters. This system was put into place after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and heralded as a way to ­address inequitable living conditions. “We have everything we want; we are very happy,” as a slogan of the time went. But the reality of communal living was often very different from its state-­sponsored ideal. The most meager of possessions were jealously guarded or fought over. It was not unheard-of for light switches to be claimed as “mine” and “yours” by feuding neighbors. The walls were thin too. In the world of the kommunalka, there was little or no privacy, and family members and neighbors could hear the goings-on of everyone around them.

More here.