Thanks to a recommendation from Pliable, I recently read Olga Grushin's first novel, "The Dream Life of Sukhanov." It is a good novel, in spite of a few flaws: an overpopulation of metaphors and adjectives that occasionally clog a narrative otherwise very well structured, a certain obsession with describing things in a different or unexpected way à la Nabokov, and a slightly anticlimactic conclusion, one of the few moments in the book when a more precise, detailed description of events would actually do good to the text.
In fact, the mention of Nabokov over there is not accidental: from the gloating quotation by some critic on the cover of the book to the obsession with descriptions and patterns, it seems that Grushin is trying to be a new Nabokov, and the fact that she is already in the U.S. should make things easier for her. But, alas, she is not - yet - Vladimir Vladimirovich, and she had better use her talent to create something more original perhaps. Or maybe what I describe as mimicry of Nabokov is actually the ever-renovating set of themes in Russian Literature used in a less inspired way by a first-time novelist, and one who is writing in English. For language, in this case, counts a lot, and I suppose the book would be more beautiful, and less artificial, if it had been written in Russian - in which case it would have taken me far more than a week of subway rides to read it.
The book has many merits, of course, and, to name but one, there is Grushin's thoughtful observation of late-Soviet-style mid-age crisis, such as in the following excerpt:
" 'No, I dreamt of a holy mission in life.' Her words were again well practiced, and cold. 'Living in close proximity to art, religiously watching over its creation, assisting at its birth with a thousand details that were in themselves mundane and yet would add up to a great, sacred trust, a short footnote next to my name for all eternity: 'Nina Sukhanova, born Malinina, the daughter of a hack, the wife of a genius.' Pathetic, isn't it - all those young Russian girls raised on nineteenth-century novels, searching for an idol at whose plaster feet they might sacrifice their own aspirations, only to wake up decades later, aged and bitter, to find their visions of vicarious greatness shattered, their husbands average, talentless nobodies...Only that's not exactly how it turned out with us, is it, Tolya - and to tell you the truth, I sometimes think I'd prefer such a trite, unambiguous ending to...to...' "
(Grushin, Olga. The Dream Life of Sukhanov. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2005, p. 234.)