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There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories


Full English translation available

By turns sly and sweet, burlesque and heartbreaking, these realist fables of women looking for love are the stories that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – who has been compared to Chekhov, Tolstoy, Beckett, Poe, Angela Carter, and even Stephen King – is best known for in Russia.

These “love stories, with a twist follow the New York Times bestselling collection of her mystical short stories There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby. The publisher’s blurb says, “here are attempts at human connection, both depraved and sublime, by people across the life span: one-night stands in communal apartments, poignantly awkward couplings, office trysts, schoolgirl crushes, elopements, tentative courtships, and rampant infidelity, shot through with lurid violence, romantic illusion, and surprising tenderness.

With a satirical eye and deep sympathy for her characters, Petrushevskaya blends macabre spectacle with transformative moments of grace and shows just why she is Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer.

They are deeply unromantic stories told frankly, with an elasticity and economy of language. <...> What is consistent is the dark, fatalistic humor and bone-deep irony Petrushevskaya’s characters employ as protection against the biting cold of loneliness and misfortune that seems their birthright.<...>They may not have the heart to throw the bastards out or lock the door against them, but these women hold the keys.

— New York Times Book Review

This gem’s exquisite conjugation of doom and disconnect is so depressingly convincing that I laughed out loud.

— Elle magazine

The length of this collection’s title is in inverse proportion to the brevity of the stories, a contrast neatly reflecting Petrushevskaya’s covert but stinging irony. The scouring realism showcased here in 17 works spanning her long writing life is the narrative mode that made her famous and led to her being banned in her native Russia. These strange, violent, and devastating stories of love warped by poverty, anger, and pain embody the Soviet era’s soul-starving shortages of dignity, shelter, and freedom. Petrushevskaya’s afflicted characters are trapped in wretchedly crowded communal apartments and suffocating family configurations, bereft of privacy, comfort, and hope. Out of misery coalesce the weirdest and most warped of romances, some disastrous, some grotesque, some liberating, while mothers’ love for their children brightens an absurdly cruel world. Petrushevskaya’s phenomenal skill in coaxing radiance from resignation, courage from despair, makes for universal and timeless stories of piercing condemnation, sly humor, profound yearning, and transforming compassion.

— Booklist

Dark and mischievous... [Petrushevskaya’s] stories never flinch from harshness, yet also offer odd redemptions... comedic brilliance... microscopic precision... several inimitable, laugh-out-loud paragraphs... creepy early-Ian-McEwan style identity disintegrations [and a] formidable way with a character profile... Petrushevskaya... ensures herself a place high in the roster of unsettling Writers of the Weird.

— Locus

Both supremely gritty and realistically life-affirming ... Full of meaningful, finely crafted detail.

— Publishers Weekly

Think Chekhov writing from a female perspective... Petrushevskaya’s short stories transform the mundane into the near surreal, pausing only to wink at the absurdity of it all.

— Kirkus Reviews

Book details

Penguin Books

English edition

Short stories, 2013

192 pp

Russian edition:

AST, 2010; Alpina, 2022

Rights sold

  • World English Penguin

  • German Bloomsbury Berlin

  • Romanian Editura Polirom

  • Portuguese (Brazil) Editora Schwarcz

  • Danish Sylkefyret

  • Spanish Marbot Ediciones

  • Catalan Periscopi

  • Norwegian Solum

  • Hebrew Locus

Literary awards

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