Stephanie D. 's Reviews > There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
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Feb 13, 10

Read in November, 2009

Vanishings and apparitions, nightmares and twists of fate, mysterious ailments and supernatural interventions haunt this book of otherworldly power by Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer, heir to the spellbinding tradition of Gogol and Poe.

Blending the miraculous with the macabre, and leavened by a mischievous gallows humor, these bewitching tales are like nothing being written in Russia – or anywhere else in the world- today.


Twisted, ghostly, and apocalyptic describe these tales, with characters that are on the brink of madness or despair. Most start out like simple, but slightly off folk tales – There once lived a woman whose son hanged himself, There once lived a girl who was killed, then brought back to life, There once lived a girl who found herself in an unknown place, on a cold winter night.

Then suddenly the stories take us out of ordinary existence and into strange, nightmarish worlds, described by the author as “orchards of unusual possibilities.”

Some recognizable tropes appear, but the landscape is completely unfamiliar and disconcerting. Instead of a child lost in the woods, we have a father with no children, a husband with no wife. He has no memory of who his family is and yet he keeps searching for them.

There once lived a father who couldn’t find his children. He went everywhere, asked everyone—had his little children come running in here? But whenever people responded with the simplest of questions—“What do they look like?” “What are their names?” “Are they boys or girls?”—he didn’t know how to answer. He simply knew that his children were somewhere, and he kept looking.

What starts out seemingly as a ghost story, There’s Someone in the House, becomes something quite different. Who or what is the woman in the house battling against? A ghost, her daughter or herself?

…Someone is secretly, soundlessly creeping from room to room. That’s how it seems.

The woman doesn’t tell anyone about her poltergeist: It’s still hiding, not knocking, not causing mischief, not setting anything on fire. The refrigerator isn’t hooping around the apartment; the poltergeist isn’t chasing her into a corner. Really there is nothing to complain about.

But something has definitely moved in, some kind of living emptiness, small of stature but energetic and pushy, sneaking and slithering along the floor…


A mother frets over her Thumbelina-sized cabbage patch child

Profound illumination comes to a woman lost in the woods with nothing but matches to light her way.

A family quarantines itself when a disfiguring infectious disease ravages their town

In these realms of the unusual, nothing is ever straightforward or neatly wrapped up; like disturbing dreams from which one awakens, they are not easily explained or forgotten.
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