One More Year
(Spiegel & Grau)There are eight short stories here, mostly about people from Georgia who have come to live and work in New York or New England. When we say "Georgia," we're not talking southern accents and sweet pecan-pie. One More Year is about arrivals from that other Georgia eight thousand miles to the east, the one where Stalin grew up, the one that some day (maybe tomorrow) could volley us into WWIII.The men who appear in One More Year --- both American and Georgian --- come off as fairly doltish; the women as put-upon. The stories are artful but uniformly, damnably drab and depressing, filled with misunderstandings and crappy communications. It isn't just a matter of mufflers and heavy Caucasian accents, it's that these people don't get each other.Alina is a medical student, living with Joel; the landlord has changed the lock on the door; Joel doesn't want his laptop stolen; she hides the computer in the oven for safe-keeping; he comes home and preheats the oven because he wants to bake a potato. (This evoked a smile ... our first in sixty-seven pages.)
Victor knew Alina's mother back there in Zhitomir and gets the young woman to go out to supper with him sans Joel (and his laptop). Victor's wife no longer satisfies him and he is confused about Americans:
People never tried to determine if their actions were harmful or indecent or cowardly. What they needed to know, instead, was whether they were intentional or unintentional, candid or insincere.
Victor learns from a friend that when he wants to cheat on his wife, as he is doing with Alina, or trying to do with Alina, or thinks he is going to do with Alina, he should write her telephone number on the upper edge of a dollar bill, just above the pyramid eye, so his wife won't find it. But Alina is not interested in this gray old man and his dollar bills, never learns that Victor jilted her mother so he could get the hell out of Georgia, to go live in St. Petersburg and finally end up in New York City.
In the story "Better Half," Anya comes to the United States all the way from Dolsk so she can take a waitressing job in Kennebunkport. She envisions running into a Kennedy or two but ends up married to Ryan who romances her for a few weeks and then calls her a slut and knocks her to the floor when she tells him he is a loser.
The side of her forehead hit the carpet. She heard the thud of her own skull as her head hit the floor. A slick, metallic taste of blood was on her tongue, mixed with the coarse fuzz of carpet fibers and hair. She gagged, trying to spit them out, as the TV droned on in the background.
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Two of these stories appeared in The New Yorker, one in The Atlantic and one in the Virginia Quarterly Review. As befits these magazines, the stories are low on boffs and high on elegant despair, the kind of despair that can get on your nerves after awhile. I was hoping for some insight or maybe a good roll in the hay there in Kennebunkport --- I'm the romantic type --- but in this moil of transnational miscommunication, outside of a computer pot-pie, all I got was a headache. And a deep longing never to go to Georgia; at least, not that Georgia. Savannah, maybe. Tbilisi, never.--- Pamela Wylie