The Girl Who Went For a Ride: a tale of horror (maybe)

The Girl Who Went For a Ride: a tale of horror (maybe)

There once lived a girl who knew she was destined for great things, but great things were always taking too long to appear on her horizon. She bided her time with her husband, a street magician, and her best friend, whose main line of work was being an artist’s mistress. Greatness teased the girl, slyly peeking around the corner up ahead and disappearing again, laughing with other people at parties.

One autumn day, when the skies were clear but the air already smelled like snow, the girl was walking home from her job, when a long, black car pulled up next to her in the street. There was a man in the back seat of the car and he rolled his window down. The man’s eyes were shiny and rich and dead, like drops of oil. “I’ve been looking for you,” said the man, and opened the car door, inviting her in. The girl got in, congratulating herself on her bravery as she did so. Greatness required bravery. Continue reading “The Girl Who Went For a Ride: a tale of horror (maybe)”

His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)

His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)

Original publication date: MONDAY NOVEMBER 30TH, 2009. Republished with kind permission from John Williams.

His Sin, Her Soul
By Natalia Antonova

Reviewed:
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The luster of scandal wore off Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita a while ago. Anyone reading the testimony of Roman Polanski’s teenage victim on The Smoking Gun must have little capacity to be shocked by Humbert Humbert’s fictional crimes. I’m willing to bet that for the modern reader, the only shocking thing about Lolita is how the writing transforms the subject matter into a thing of startling beauty, and how effortlessly Nabokov avoids prurience in order to create something more chilling.

But while the scandal of it may have faded, the book’s vocabulary continues to live a life of its own. When a young girl is called a Lolita, we imagine a knowingly hyper-sexualized child, one who wears too much of her older sister’s make-up and lets her underwear peek out as she wanders into the peripheral vision of some man. If “Lolita” isn’t always code for “she was asking for it,” it’s at least a suggestion of some impropriety or mitigating factor, an indication that an older man’s younger victim wasn’t exactly a gentle-faced virgin — or she certainly didn’t look like it, Your Honor.

In light of this cultural appropriation, I wasn’t surprised when a fairly good friend asked me why on earth I — a stridently vocal survivor of sexual abuse, someone who screams her head off every time someone shrugs that “boys will be boys” — would profess so much admiration for Nabokov’s most famous book. Don’t I realize that Lolita the book and Lolita the term feed off one another in the public sphere? And that even if it were possible to separate it from the hiss of cultural static that has amplified around it over the years, Lolita is still a book that takes an extremely ugly story and makes it extremely gorgeous? Implicit in these inquiries was the real question, of course, which emerged after my replies failed to satisfy: “How can you stand reading it, with everything you say you have been through?” Continue reading “His Sin, Her Soul: On Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (republished from The Second Pass)”

A half-hearted Apocalypse of sorts

A half-hearted Apocalypse of sorts

In the place I used to be from, they have an old legend about a band of warriors – horses, sabers, embarrassingly well-fitted leather chaps, etc. The legend goes that the warriors were brave and noble and fought on the right side of history. Most retired in peace and died nonviolent deaths.

Except for the one warrior that kept on living, that is. He kept on living and living. Last anyone’s heard of him, he was 700 years old and counting.

Impossible, you say. Imagine the paper trail someone like that would generate over time, you say. A warrior wouldn’t be a warrior if he listened to the objections of people on the internet, though. And anyway, there was a lot for him to do. War never goes out of style.

The legend goes that a few hundred years into his deathless existence, the warrior – let’s say his name was Nik, it’s a good name – was riding along through some dusty little town where chickens roam the main square. It was hot and he was thirsty, and he found a tavern and bought some beer. Some things in existence you don’t get sick of, not even after centuries.

A beer wench brought Nik his beverage, and leaned down conspicuously, as beer wenches are supposed to do, but before he got a good look at her tits, he noticed her eyes. And her tits stopped mattering then, and Nik felt uncomfortable. And the beer wench felt uncomfortable. And the joy drained out of the day.  Continue reading “A half-hearted Apocalypse of sorts”

Darkness on the Edge of Moscow: excerpt 2

Previous excerpt here.

“Do your friends actually call you La?” He tried and failed to stifle a laugh.

“Close friends.” The label on the beer bottle would not come off no matter how hard she scraped at it. “So you, for example, would have to refer to me as Nelly.”

“Where did Nelly come from?”

“Full name’s Leonella.”

“Wow.”

He began to say something else. La’s gaze wandered downward. On the street below, a garbage truck was trying to turn around. Its path was blocked by a flashy sports car with its hazards on. She saw the truck’s driver jump out from the cabin and shake his fist in the direction of the sports car. The driver of the sports car leaned on the horn.

From up high, it was hard to tell whom to side with.

Continue reading “Darkness on the Edge of Moscow: excerpt 2”

Darkness on the Edge of Moscow: an excerpt

This is an excerpt of a bigger work of fiction. 

The train paused briefly in the tunnel between the stations – a rare occurrence for the circle line. La leaned against the door, pressed right up against the place where it said “No Leaning,” and thought about disaster. Images from the trailer of a movie she had failed to see in the theaters – something about the river dramatically rushing into the metro tunnels – shimmered briefly in her mind.

She wasn’t sure how she would like to die in the event of a real metro disaster. Quickly? Or in some equally horrific and heroic fashion? Either way, Slava would probably be sad, at least for some brief and crucial moment.

He would have to hide it, of course. His sadness could not go beyond the boundaries of propriety. She imagined him drinking forlornly in some Soviet-like establishment with no seating spaces and lots of kitschy posters, surrounded by nostalgia-driven hipsters. She remembered that he no longer drank. She imagined him sitting in his car, his big hands gripping the wheel, as his knuckles turned white. He had told her that this happened sometimes.

Then what? Then he would drive home, pick up some groceries on the way, exchange gruff pleasantries with a neighbor in the parking lot, kiss his wife at the door as she urged him to take off his snow-caked boots, and park himself in front of the TV with a Playstation and the kids for company. It would snow lightly outside – she imagined delicate, ghostly snowflakes soundlessly hitting the glass. The kids would fight over the second Playstation controller. The neighbors would laugh and murmur on a nearby balcony. And La would still be dead.

She was angrily thinking about how Slava would never even notice the beauty and futility of the evening snowflakes bashing themselves against the glass when she realized the train was in motion.

Resigned to living for the time being, she focused on being angry. Why couldn’t he just break things off with her like the normal sort of cheating bastard who inevitably gets tired of a mistress? Why couldn’t he make her into a proper mistress while he was at it? Why was he talking about “confusion” and making plans that meant nothing?

The soldier profiles ensconced in marble at Taganskaya station side-eyed her as she got off the train. “The real problem here is that you spend too much time thinking about him,” one of them said. “He doesn’t think nearly as much about you.”

“Unless it’s to ruminate very briefly on the way your tits tasted in his mouth that one time,” another one piped up. 

“Trust us. We’re men. We would know,” a third one laughed mirthlessly.

Continue reading “Darkness on the Edge of Moscow: an excerpt”