Your Ad Could Go Here: Stories
- By Oksana Zabuzhko
- Amazon Crossing
- 252 pp.
- Reviewed by Mariko Hewer
- April 30, 2020
With some excavating, these tales yield up various nuggets of wisdom.
It’s a rarity to come across writing that strikes an intimate tone, drawing you close and whispering tantalizing secrets in your ear. In Your Ad Could Go Here, Oksana Zabuzhko attempts this confessional tenor, occasionally achieving it but more often falling short, perhaps due to her rambling prose.
The topics Zabuzhko writes about may seem modest at first: a young woman coming of age in a rural Ukrainian village; a man giving a woman a tennis lesson; an opera singer’s family on their way to her performance. On closer examination, however, one realizes that the relationships portrayed in these stories are anything but simple.
The young woman must contend with both her jealous younger sister and a spectral nighttime visitor. The man and woman playing tennis have ulterior motives. The opera singer feuds bitterly with her teenage daughter over a perceived slight. It is when these complexities come to the forefront that the writing is strongest.
In a touchingly relatable story about two young women exploring their sexualities and each other, Zabuzhko makes this astute observation:
“It takes a lifetime to understand that long ago the grown-ups lied to you, that in fact nothing living, neither a flower, nor a rabbit, nor a person, nor a country, can, in fact, be had: they can only be destroyed, which is the one way to confirm they have been possessed.”
How true this rings for anyone who has tried futilely to possess something; how precisely Zabuzhko captures the nature of ownership and loss.
Unfortunately, the author’s writing style — expansive, meandering, parenthetical — deadens the emotional punch that such lines pack. Some sentences are nearly a full page long. Readers may find themselves several pages into a story without any idea where it’s heading or what it’s about. The story about the opera singer, for example, begins thus:
“From the smallest thing, it always begins with the smallest thing — with a speck of dust in your eye, a crappy mood, a suddenly remembered insult from one screwed-up Gavrilo Princip (you really shouldn’t have made fun of the little shrimp), and before you know it, bam! there’s a cosmic catastrophe on your hands and just you try to stop it now.”
Some readers may enjoy Zabuzhko’s digressions and be willing to wait for the payoff, but I found myself growing increasingly confused as I lost the beginnings of sentences and consequently their important components.
Luckily, Zabuzhko’s collection includes enough stories that I was able to experiment with my reading. When I treated each piece as a conversation — one in which Zabuzhko was doing most of the talking and I was listening to an interesting anecdote — it became easier to digest content and meaning, to appreciate the author’s gemlike nuggets of wisdom:
“[T]he older you get, the more you see that really life can be put back together somehow, made bearable, although it will never be the way it was before, but that’s okay, it’s going to be all right, really, things have a way of fixing themselves, as long as you’re okay.”
“Understanding, in fact, is my job, that’s what writers are for — to try to understand everyone and everything and put this understanding into words, finished to the gossamer fineness of a rose petal, words made supple and obedient, words cut to hold the reader’s mind like a well-made glove that fits like a second skin.”
These observations, so uncomplicated, are nevertheless stunning when given room to breathe.
Mariko Hewer is a freelance editor and writer. She is passionate about good books, good food, and good company. Find her occasional insights of varying quality on Twitter at @hapahaiku.