Last year, in these pages, I reviewed “Vita Nostra,” a Russian dark fantasy novel about nonsense schoolwork. I loved everything about it. I especially loved how reading it felt trying to find your way around a busy open air market in Mumbai, only to realize when you looked back on your progress that you are actually in the Mall of America, and you still don’t know where the snow is coming from. It was a book that introduced a system of supernaturalism (I hate to call it magic) that I’d never seen anything like before.
So it is obviously with great anticipation that I awaited the translation of the next novel from Marina and Sergey Dyachenko. The wait ended this year with the release of the English version of “Daughter from the Dark.”
I will spoil the finale upfront by telling you I am not as fond of “Daughter” as I was of “Vita Nostra.” I also will tell you that I’m perfectly okay with that, and I’m happy with the result of my waiting. Like my favorite movie director of all time, the venerable Christopher Nolan, the Dyachenko duo are unwilling to take a hit book and tape a cheap sequel to it for easy sales.
Where “Vita Nostra” was steeped in surreal abnormalism, “Daughter” is far more restrained in the height it achieves and in the speed with which it reveals what’s going on.
The basic plot intro is that we follow around protagonist DJ Aspirin, his professional name is almost always used, a DJ for Radio Sweetheart, part time club DJ and writer of trashy prose for trashy magazines. He is tired, cynical, hedonistic and not a little unlovable.
Aspirin meets a young girl, Alyona, in an alley as he walks home at night. She is confused and has only a teddy bear in her possession. They both are attacked by street thugs, and in the darkness, her teddy bear, named Mishutka, may or may not have ripped in half a dog that was set on them.
Alyona moves in with Aspirin, though she often hates him, and they pretend she’s his illegitimate child that’s been sprung on him. Eventually she gets in her head that she needs to learn to play a song on the violin, so that she can call to her brother and that becomes her singular obsession. Aspirin, despite many attempts, cannot get her to leave his apartment. In the meantime, his entire life is falling apart whether as a result of her, him, his reaction to her, her reaction to him or some combination of all of them.
This book is more than just the strangest and least funny version of “The Odd Couple” you’ve ever read. It explores several themes such as the nature of creativity, focus versus distractedness, and even puts a clever spin on inverse causation.
Did any of that sound interesting to you? Yes? Good, you’ll love this book. No? I see your library checkout history, and it contains many Nora Roberts books. I’m just kidding. This seriously isn’t for everyone.
If you’re like me in your taste for stories, I’d recommend this book. I don’t like predictable plot lines. I want to have to pay attention. I want to be surprised and not have everything spoon fed to me. At the end of the story, I don’t want to fully understand everything that happened. If that’s you, these two authors may be the refreshing cup of cold tea you didn’t know you wanted until you’d drunk it down.
Aaron Pauls is a service technician for McKinzie Pest Control.