Nate D's Reviews > In the Jaws of Life and Other Stories

In the Jaws of Life and Other Stories by Dubravka Ugrešić
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Jan 27, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: balkans, post-modernism, warsaw-pact-bureau-of-the-arts, read-in-2012
Recommended to Nate D by: MJ Nicholls
Recommended for: snail men
Read from January 18 to 26, 2012

Dubravka Ugresic is a playful Croatian post-modernist who obsessed over Russian avant-garde lit, translated Daniil Kharms, and seems to be primarily concerned (at least in these earliest publications collected here) with commenting on female life and place modern society, dissecting literature and writing themselves, and making penis jokes (many of which are pretty funny). She might tend a little towards focus on form and wit over narrative content for my tastes (I know, I know, this from me), but the forms themselves make for pretty interesting content a lot of the time (naturally, this from me). It's a high 3 stars, 3.5 or 3.8 or something. "Love Story", one of her earliest novellas, maybe the first, is the standout: 4 stars for sure on that bit. I'll be curious as to what she's been up to since this, as she's still going strong.

Steffie Speck in the Jaws of Life and A Love Story: Two novellas make up more than half of this collection, each covering very similar terrain in deconstructing the love story. But while the title story is an intentionally generic garment heavily (and often hilariously) embroidered with post-modern flourishes and meta-commentary on both life and literature, the second manages similar love/lit dissection with a different raw material, much less generic and much more personal. Each compliments the other, of course, but Ugresic really shines here in her explanation of conjoined early love and early development as a writer, if either can be believed as autobiography given that they're stories within a story about writing and seem to lapse incongruously out of their proper timeline at points. Anyway, it's totally fun, but with some pretty vicious little barbs tucked away beneath the fabric as well. You, the customer! (watch out).

Life is a Fairy Tale (Metaterxies) Second half, six stories, each a bizarre parody, rethink, redesign, or pastiche of some literary classic (often Russian). Only one is specifically Daniil Kharms-related, but they all seem to have been composed in part under his absurdist sign, with even a line lifted from my favorite of his tales. Ugresic's wit and wide arsenal of interesting references make me certain that she'd be an amazing partner in literary banter over coffee (if I could ever hope to hold up my end of such!) and sometimes that's what these feel like more than stories: strange referential conversations, though perhaps only between the author and herself. By which I mean that they can at points hold more cleverness and humor than narrative or thematic force. But cleverness and humor go decent ways here. And maybe they're just smoothing over the tops of more determined themes that I'm missing.
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message 1: by MJ (new)

MJ Nicholls Great review. I'm curious about this Danill Kharms fellow. Which collection should I read?

Nate D I'm not sure what the various collections cover, but I assume there's a lot of overlap between them. This one is pretty good. He can be extremely random-seeming sometimes, but they're supurb for reading aloud to puzzled audiences and friends.

Thanks, as usual for the recommendation!

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