Monday, August 4, 2008
One More Year, a collection of short stories, deals mainly with the experiences of Russian immigrants to America. The stories follow men and women, young and old, as they adjust to the disappointments and realities of leaving Russia for America. Some of the stories deal with returning to a Russia that has transformed while they were gone, some are set in Russia. The vivid language and stark detail that the author used made the characters' situations come alive, and made the stories themselves very revealing and diverting. The circumstances her characters find themselves in are distinctive and well wrought, but the world her characters inhabit isn't a pretty place. It is a more gritty and unyielding world than most of us are acquainted with, populated with people who are selfish and self-serving. There was a dark energy surrounding these tales that was hard to displace, and as I read, looking for hope, I was scarcely rewarded with it.
As a whole, the characters in this book didn't engender any sympathy. They were cynical and sullen people not content with the situations of their life, always more apt to complain than to change. Her characters tended to lament and gravitate towards dejection. Many of the characters were in relationships where monogamy played no part, and this was dealt with in a very indifferent fashion. The flagrant infidelity in these stories was tiresome. One story in particular, about a woman who is competing with another woman to be first in her partner's life, had a gruesome and disturbing conclusion that seemed oddly out of place . Another aspect that stood out as a hallmark of the collection was a lack of family cohesiveness. Many were guarded and disconnected from their relations, and mistrust and secretiveness dominated these relationships. Americans were often portrayed as people who frequently stole and ransomed passports and working documents, or were great snobbish bores, occupying opulent surroundings where the focal characters slaved away for them. Most of the marriages were marriages of convenience, lacking any affection or goodwill between partners. The author seems to have a very disenchanted and dismal view of the life of the modern day Russian in America. It's not an unbelievable set of circumstances that these characters have encountered, this struggle for a foothold on a new life, but the idea that among all these stories, there are none of hope or optimism, leads me to regard them as somewhat improbable. I have never encountered a more jaded group of characters.
This book was deeply dispiriting. As I read, it seemed too much to hope for that something would go right for these people, and then it became a situation where I was reading, expecting the calamity page after page. The author's statement seems to be that life for the average Russian citizen who decides to take a chance on a better future is bleak and unrewarding. She shows exceptional talent in the ability to render these stories and situations, yet the whole endeavor made me sad and frustrated.