This book truly, like her other collection truly is an experience. Her stories are not a whole lot like other writers’, except for one very clear connection point. The stories range from the narration of the death of a town and its people, to a grumpy angel who doesn’t really want to be bothered.
My favorite story in this collection is the only one I will talk about: “The Poet and the Muse” starts off: “Nina was a marvelous woman, an ordinary woman, a doctor, and it goes without saying that she had her right to personal happiness like everyone else. Of this she was well aware. Nearing the age of thirty-five after a lengthy period of joyless trial and error–not even worth talking about–she knew precisely what she needed: a wild, true love, with tears, bouquets, midnight phone vigils, nocturnal taxi chases, fateful obstacles, betrayals, and forgiveness. She needed a–you know–an animal passion, dark windy nights with streetlamps aglow. She needed to perform a heroine’s classical feat as if it were a mere trifle: to wear out seven pairs of iron boots, break seven iron staffs in two, devour seven loaves of iron bread, and receive in supreme reward not some golden rose or snow-white pedestal but a burned-out match or a crumpled ball of a bus ticket–a crumb from the banquet table where the radiant king, her heart’s desire, had feasted. Well, of course, quite a few women need pretty much the same thing, so in this sense Nina was, as has already been said, a perfectly ordinary woman, a marvelous woman, a doctor.”
That’s the opening of a story that then goes on for 15 more pages.
Others of her stories in this collection as not very memorable or they’re so atmospheric and impressionistic that they don’t fully leave their mark with me. But they’re all very Russian.
I think her closest influence is likely Nabokov. In her pacing, her tone, and her voice there’s a kind ecstatic reverie that bleeds through and reminds me of so much of his writing. And like Nabokov, she can’t not seem to allow the stories to just BE, that is, without a heavy heavy dose of narrator control and influence. You almost never don’t hear her talking through her stories. And they live and die on this point.