The Grassy Street by Asar Eppel
People in the West pride themselves on having some control over their lives day to day and even in the long term (employers ask job applicants just out of business school: "Where do you see yourself in five years?") Eppel's stories are about people who have no control over their lives even day to day, whose lives are as catch-as- catch-can emotionally as they are materially. And while they might seem to some Western readers to be about marginal people in bizarre situations, Eppel's stories (to me) go a long way towards making sense of the absurdity that was Soviet reality and still is (largely) Russian reality. Now when I look out the elektrichka window on my way to the dacha, I have a word for what I see: Eppelshchina. Even capitalist Moscow is not immune. A year ago the yardkeeper who tends the yard where my sister-in-law lives cobbled together a low fence out of old radiators, bedsteads and chicken wire: his idea of how to keep people from parking their cars on the grass, my idea of modern-day Eppelshchina. Eppel has captured -- and even poeticized -- what my brother-in-law (a mathematician-tinkerer not unlike Samson Yeseich) refers to fondly as "estetika bezobraznogo" ("the aesthetics of hideousness").
What saves Eppel's stories from being merely a catalogue of unsavory physical detail and humiliating deprivation is, of course, his extraordinary compassion, love and humor. The Moscow Times' reviewer, Jean MacKenzie, was very taken by Eppel for this reason: "It is rare that a radically new voice is heard in literature -- a style, a turn of phrase, a point of view that inserts itself into the reader's brain, changing him and his world, subtly, perhaps, but irrevocably. Asar Eppel is just such a writer... He cannot be easily classified. He is part Gogol, part Babel, with shadings of naturalism and even a bit of post-modernism. But Eppel provides what most of the overly-intellectualized post-modernists lack: love for his subjects, no matter how unattractive, how venal, how downtrodden.