Magazine article World Literature Today

Petroleum Venus

Magazine article World Literature Today

Petroleum Venus

Article excerpt

Alexander Snegirev. Petroleum Venus. Arch Tait, tr. Moscow. Glas (Consortium, distr.) 2013. isbn 9785717200967

Alexander Snegirev's Petroleum Venus stands out against the backdrop of Russia's contemporary literary scene, where conceptual postmodernism is still in vogue. In contrast, this slightly absurd but character-driven novel seems positively realistic. Even as Snegirev builds a world where oil takes on mythic status-where the physical processes that turn organic matter into fossil fuel connect the past to the present more powerfully than cultural heritage or shared experience- he never loses sight of his characters.

He builds the novel around the tender, loving relationship between the narrator, Fyodor, and his seventeen- year-old son, Vanya, who has Down syndrome. After Vanya's mother abandons them and Fyodor's parents die, the two are leftalone in the world. Fyodor, like any parent, gropes his way through anxieties, frustrations, and fears, while Vanya's disability provokes poignant moments of public embarrassment, self-doubt, and utter confusion.

This well-observed portrait of single parenthood unfolds in a Moscow charged with symbolic potential. Magic and the supernatural lurk just out of the characters' reach, creating a world that feels real but slightly out of joint. Vanya's Down syndrome alerts him to the mystical connotations of the material world. A pendant from his grandmother can tell the future, and "evil forces like witches have fused in [his] brain with suicide bombers into a single deadly danger. …

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