Thursday, February 01, 2007

Petropolis by Anya Ulinich

An ambitious first novel, this is an odd but engaging tale told with the black humor typical of Russian literature. Sasha Goldberg, a black, Jewish Russian girl (!) from the town of Asbestos 2(!!) goes in search of the father that abandoned her and her self-possessed mother when she was a small child. The long road takes her from the weird post-Soviet Russia to being a mail-order bride in Arizona to being the pet Soviet refusenik of a wealthy philanthropic couple in Chicago. It is a sprawling piece of work that never loses a certain tension but can also provide a good laugh and a hard look at how people cope.

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

A beautifully written memoir. Thomas’ husband, Rich, was hit by a car and suffered traumatic brain injury. After surgeries, etc., his condition became such that Thomas couldn’t care for him at home and placed him in a long-term facility. The book is less about Rich’s troubles as it is about Thomas adjusting to a life on her own, an unexpected turn of events for a couple who married late in life. She still visits Rich. She even moves upstate to be near him and the hospital but Rich is not the same and never will be and Thomas has to learn to live her life without him. At times heartbreaking and other times laugh-out-loud funny, this book can be devoured in one sitting. Eat up.

Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle

It’s been 12 years since Doyle introduced us to Paula as The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, a battered wife and mother struggling with alcoholism. At the time, Doyle said he’d like to revisit her at some point in the future to see how she was doing. Here we are. When we left Paula, she was hiding her gin in the garden shed and tossing the key out in the yard to make it difficult for herself to drink. Unlike his last two books, sweeping novels both, Doyle instead keeps this story small. At this point, Paula is making a life for herself, a life she never thought she could actually live soberly. These small victories—holding down a job, saving money, being a responsible adult, at last—are all new to her and something to help measure her life. She’s also dealing with the guilt of raising her kids while drunk. I’m glad Doyle wanted to write about Paula. I’m so happy to see her again.