“Poor Girl”
by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
translated from the Russian by Anna Friedrich
from the September 24, 2018

I am very ready to go back into the strange world that Petrushevskaya creates in her stories. I still well remember the first few stories I read by her. I didn’t understand them, but they worked their horror into me anyway.

Petrushevskaya is not afraid to look at the darkest recesses of the mind, into the common terrors we all know about but hope are not happening. Her story collections, as a taste: There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy TalesThere Once Was a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories, and There Once Was a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In: Three Novellas About Family.

This week we get a particularly short story in “Poor Girl,” but I’m expecting it to pack a punch. I don’t know just what it’s about or what’s going on, but I suspect it’s going to be, so let’s look at it’s opening paragraph . . . well: disturbing stuff, indeed.

The wretched mother could easily have lost her sanity watching her husband love their daughter — the way he stroked the child when she was falling asleep or waking up, his blissful expression when they touched, the fact that he bathed her himself, believing it to be his right and his responsibility. His happy laughter when he recounted to his guests how, in the tub, Manya always tried to cover her privates with her hands (leaving the rest exposed, the guests surmised). That was how matters proceeded until the girl turned eight and insisted on bathing alone, and the mother grew even more worried, wondering what might have gone on between the two.

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