I love short stories, especially ones that are linked through geographical location. Rather than simply reading random stories, one feels that one is learning more about the inhabitants and landscape. Russia is my favorite area to read about (Why else would I have made this blog?), so of course Kseniya Melnik’s Snow in May stood out to me.
However, having read the book, I can’t say I really enjoyed it. Something about this book seemed so…Russia-lite. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful the book wasn’t heartbreaking, or all doom and gloom – it was an easy read. But it seemed there were a lot of generic stereotypes of Russian situations. Here we have the long shopping queues, the crowded apartments, the smell of cabbage, people longing for the West. Here we have the ballerinas, the spoiled children, the piano prodigy, the brilliant scientific mind hounded by the state. There are the obligatory expats and mail-order brides. Yes, it gave a ‘view from the other side’ to these things – but I was already familiar with those story elements and themes from other books written by Russian authors. I was not challenged; I was not presented with a new idea or anything that would stick with me long after I’d closed the book and sent it back to the library.
I felt like each story had a tale of somebody expressing a reaction to a given situation; the reaction was the story. For example, in Love, Italian Style or In Line For Bananas, a woman is propositioned by a handsome stranger, and she could have had an affair with him without any repercussions. So that story is how she responds to the situation. Interesting, surprising in some ways, but riddled with cliché. In another, two lifelong friends fall out over how to address the situation of one’s disabled child: the protagonist of that one is dealing with his reactions and looking at his own life. Once again, very predictable.
It’s not that the stories are poorly written – Melnik’s writing style is smooth and conversational – it’s just that they lack the substance and strong characterization they need. And the bleak setting, Magadan, is fairly interesting at times, but struggles to distinguish itself from other literary Russian towns. All in all, this book felt simply…standard.
Snow in May: Stories by Kseniya Melnik. Pub. 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. Hardcover, 274 pages. ISBN13: 9781627790079
Here’s a map showing the location of Magadan, by the way: