Lizka and Her Men

Lots of books have been written about young women whose beauty and terrible taste in men lead them to withered destitution. A less common story is of a heroine whose insatiable appetite for romantic entanglement becomes a source of discovery rather than shame. For Lizka, a 17-year-old in perestroika-era Russia, one scandal follows the next, with no apologies for the heartbreak she causes, the windows she breaks, and the lovers she leaves behind. What Lizka most values is the future. Her conviction that relationships create opportunities is what makes Ikonnikov's first novel a narrative greater than the sum of its emotional parts. After being chased out of her parent's house in Lopukhov for rumored salacious behavior (she was raped), Lizka moves to a new town, enrolls in school, and works as a yard keeper. She meets her first boyfriend during a short stint in jail and, unsurprisingly, the much older Misha, a notorious gambler, turns out to be a losing proposition. During the next two years, living with a Party official named Victor, Lizka studies to become a typist, earning $100 a month. She abandons Victor for Artur, a trolley bus driver, and then leaves Artur for a poet named Max. None of these men make her happy; finally, Lizka screams, "I want to be alone! I'm going to buy myself a dog!" Soon after, of course, she falls in love with someone new. This preoccupation with dead end romance provides a perfectly skewered backdrop for the swirling chaos of 1989 Russia, when it isn't at all clear what direction the country will take. Ikonnikov's style is marked by a close to the ground quality; as his characters obsess over the future, he keeps them tethered with humdrum tasks and absurdities out of their control. The final chapter is written from the perspective of another of Lizka's paramours, and it's a disappointment to lose her spirited voice. Even at her most vulnerable, she makes decisions without equivocation, knowing that all endings allow room for fresh starts. -

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.