Mel Carriere has read a lot of big thick books by Russians but he does not speak or read Russian, so who knows if he really gets it?
All Families Are Not Created Equal
Let's face it, some families are just better than others. Really special families leave a legacy admired and imitated the world over, a heritage that sometimes changes the course of history. These superior bags of gelatinous genetic gel - conglomerated into biologically linked social units, keep getting more accomplished and more prestigious, while the rest of us wallow happily in our mediocrity.
Then we have the great majority of humankind's kinfolk collections, consisting of people just there taking up space. The members of these uncounted tribes, numerous as the grains of sand, are spit out onto the planet to consume resources, then contribute greatly to global warming through digestive tract methane emission, then vanish into obscurity. They are barely memorable a few minutes after their funerals, that is if anyone attends.
This blogger's Carriere clan is one such family, being bland on both ends and tasteless in the middle. The name Carriere itself means someone who lives on a major thoroughfare, such as an Interstate, which may explain my relatives' low life expectancy and gloomy outlook on future prospects. It may also account for our unnatural fondness for pancakes, which my kinfolk swear are not just for breakfast anymore. At family reunions a little roadkill always works its way into the stew as well.
The meaning of my maternal surname is even more depressing, denoting those who live in proximity to a drainage ditch. Could it be mere coincidence that half my family inhales exhaust fumes, while the other half breathes noxious vapors off of slow moving sludge? One certainty, however, is that when the members of my family run our course we will fall (or be pushed) straight into that drainage ditch of the forgotten, then float out to sea to be captured by currents that will eventually deposit us on the great garbage island of the pacific, where our only contribution to the betterment of the planet will be as fish food.
Better than nothing, I suppose. Yet, standing out in stark contrast to the lowly, loathsome, belly crawling Carrieres of the roadside drainage ditch, you have the mighty Tolstoy clan that soars with the eagles. Now there is a family! Even before the famous Count Leo Tolstoy was scribbling away War and Peace and developing principles of non-violent resistance that influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the Tolstoys were already a big deal. Distinguished forebear Pyotr Aleksandrovich Tolstoy was a Russian general and statesmen. Alexander Ivanovich Tolstoy was a fierce fighter in the Napoleonic wars. The illustrious Tolstoys made history centuries before wayward son Leo renounced his nobility, put on a peasant smock, then changed the course of history with his philosophy of Christian anarchism.
The modern day descendants of the Tolstoy family ain't too shabby either. Tolstoy scion Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a pioneer of the science fiction genre in Russia. He then passed down the Tolstoy literary tradition to the here and now through his granddaughter, Tatyana Tolstaya. Tatyana Tolstaya is the author of the current Lunchtime Lit novel being reviewed here in a roundabout way, entitled The Slynx. True, this book is just a thin little slice of forebear Leo's massive epic War and Peace, but what it lacks in bulk it makes up for in depth, with lofty insights into human nature that make sense even to us bottom feeders.
Lunchtime Lit Rules
Book reviewer Mel Carriere, descendant of a pitiful bunch of inept literature students that were notorious for turning in incoherent, grammatically incorrect book reports of novels they rarely even opened, reads and reviews novels great and small on his half hour postal lunch break. Sometimes these books are as light as a sandwich, in other cases they are as heavy as a side of beef. Nonetheless, all reviews adhere to the inflexible rule that they only be read on his half hour lunch, never to be taken home to be used as barbells if extremely hefty, or post-it notes if on the thin side.
Lunchtime Lit One Year Recap to Date * ** ***
|Book||Pages||Word Count (est.)||Date Started||Date Finished||Lunchtimes Consumed|
The Winter of Our Discontent
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy
Kafka on The Shore
Life And Fate
The Mountain Shadow
A Confederacy of Dunces
*Seven other titles, with a total estimated word count of 1,897,400 and 252 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.
**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.
***If the dates are lagging, it is because I am still slogging along, trying to catch up after a prolonged absence from Hub Pages. Someday this list may be current, but don't hold your breath.
The Slynx Synopsis
The Tolstoyan epic War And Peace deals extensively, but not exclusively, with the Napoleonic war in Russia and the historical forces behind it. The Tolstayan micro-epic The Slynx, on the other hand, explores life in the aftermath of what was obviously a nuclear war, referred to only as The Blast. Once mighty Moscow has been reduced to a ramshackle collection of peasant's huts, called izbas, that hunker alongside the expansive Terem - these being the mansions of the ruling elite. The peasants scrape about for mice to eat, the elite have unlimited foodstuffs. The masses of the poor ambulate on foot, the rich are carted along on carriages, pulled by mutant human Degenerators.
In other words, the setting may have changed from the early 19th century backdrop of War And Peace, and the external appearance of Homo sapiens may have been altered by the mutating Consequences of The Blast, but the internal nature of people has not improved. Society still consists of have-nots and haves that want more, namely the have Murzas, who fight among themselves for the power to rule over the have-not Golubchiks. Essentially, the Golubchiks are in the same straits as the serfs that were lorded over by Russian nobility in Tolstoy's time.
In War and Peace the real threat of the invading French army is the glue that keeps people in step behind the Czar. In The Slynx, imaginary bogeymen are used by the elite to keep the peasants in check. If the rank and file indulge in Freethinking and don't adhere strictly to the wise dictates of their leader Feodor Kuzmich, those darn Chechens are liable to sneak in from the south. Even worse, if a poor Golubchik gets to feeling independent and goes wandering alone in the forest, he could be preyed upon by a mysterious, never-seen entity called The Slynx, a legendary creature that sneaks up behind the unwitting and drains them of their reason.
Benedikt is one such lowly Golubchik who shrewdly moves into the halls of power by marrying into a noble family that owns a massive library. Having been taught to read by his pre-Blast "Oldener" mother, Benedikt becomes obsessed by books, but soon finds that some of them contradict the current order. The Slynx chronicles his crisis of conscience, but our author Tatyana is not as long winded as her great-uncle Leo, and in short order we discover whether Benedikt will be true to his old friends, or yield to the allure of upward mobility.
Whoever was born after the Blast, they have other Consequences - all kinds. Some have got hands that look like they broke out in green flour, like they'd been rolling in greencorn, some have gills, another might have a cockscomb or something else. And sometimes there aren't any Consequences, except when they get old a pimple will sprout from the eye, or their private parts will grow a beard down to the shins. Or nostrils will open up on their knees.
— Tatyana Tolstoya - The Slynx
Perhaps I already mentioned that Slynx author Tolstaya is of fine literary pedigree, not just through the immortal Tolstoy line but also via Ivan Turgenev, another famous 19th century Russian author. Before they sired the seeds that sprouted and were grafted together, Tolstoy and Turgenev were enemies for 17 years. Leo Tolstoy found the latter a bore and challenged him to a duel, which started a long-standing grudge. The pair eventually reconciled on Turgenev's death bed, and we can thank this burying of the hatchet for giving us The Slynx. This struggle between Russian literary giants takes the concept of family feud to extremes, showing that even in members of the most noble of clans, ones own blood can be a battleground.
The author of The Slynx was born in 1951, and after taking her degree in classical philology at Leningrad State University in St. Petersburg, the city of her birth, she has variously worked as a literary critic, editor, and talk show host. Impressive resume for sure, but writing eluded her. As Tolstaya said in an interview, she had unusual reasons for dragging her feet before entering the world of fiction.
...When I was very little, I somehow knew that I was doomed—yes, doomed!—to become a writer. And I was afraid. All Russian writers, in my understanding, died in duels: Pushkin was killed in a duel, in 1837, Lermontov in 1841.… I remember asking my parents, “If someone challenges you to a duel, do you have to accept?” And they answered, “Sure.” So I was horrified. I did not want to die this way."
— Tatyana Tolstaya 2007 New Yorker Interview
The power of Tatyana's imagination could not be forever suppressed, even by the fear of smoking guns at 15 paces, meaning in time she succumbed to the call of her powerful ancestors. In her early thirties the future author had eye surgery, and it was during this sightless period that her muse finally took flight. In her minds eye she gave birth to aetherial worlds, what Tolstaya reviewer Lev Grossman said were "moments when the dull plastic coating of reality peels back to reveal something vastly more precious underneath." The short stories that sprung from her sojourn into her own head eventually mutated into the aetherial landscape of The Slynx, where the apocalyptic post-nuclear topography seems to linger somewhere between dream and reality, to form the border wall between science fiction and fantasy, but with hordes of asylum seekers from the fantasy realm digging under, or pole vaulting over.
Tolstoys Past And Present
When you really get down to it, the parallels between Tolstoys past and Tolstayas present don't run very far at all. To begin with, there is the issue of family in their respective works. Although based against a backdrop of catastrophic events, the Rostovs of War and Peace are one happy bunch. The ending of the novel gives hope that the happiness achieved by Pierre Bezhukov, who marries into the stable, nurturing, supportive Rostovs, can be maintained and even cultivated to sprout new buds elsewhere. The finale offers optimism that love can endure through social upheavals.
The ending of The Slynx offers no such hope. Protagonist Benedikt betrays his ideals and those who share them in exchange for the full belly offered by the dysfunctional family of the claw-foot Consequence he marries into. His new father in law does overthrow the corrupt, self-serving dictator Kuzmich, with Benedikt's help, but we are left with the impression that the new regime will differ little from the old one. The Who sang that the new boss is the same as the old boss, and this rule holds true here, and almost everywhere. Revolutions occur, Orwell's pigs toss out the humans enslaving them on the Animal Farm, but in the end the pigs become the new oppressors.
Unlike Leo Tolstoy, Tatyana Tolstaya doesn't need 587,000 words to deal with these powerful notions. They are successfully squeezed into one relatively tiny sliver of a book. Yes, the physical bulk of Tatyana's Slynx weighs but a fraction of great-Uncle Leo's massive masterpiece, but the ideas therein are very heavy indeed.
Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 15, 2019:
Thank you Lawrence. I would call it a dystopian fantasy. I think one of its main themes is that the dark side of human nature does not change even when society sinks into a semi primitive state. I appreciate you dropping in.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 14, 2019:
I was going to say that this book sounded a lot like the dystopian novels of George Orwell.
I enjoyed the review.
Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 17, 2019:
Thank you Mills. That's really high praise, to get a positive review for a review from a reviewer. I really appreciate you dropping in.
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on March 16, 2019:
Although this book deals with a different kind of blast, I always have a blast reading your takes on literature and work. Thanks as always for sharing.
Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 15, 2019:
Kim your positive feedback always inflated my sagging ego a lot. I kind of disappeared for a while myself but now I'm trying to get back in the groove. Reading these rather off the wall books has expanded my horizons. There are so many literary unknowns that get missed out on because we tend to enslave ourselves to genre. Thanks for dropping in.
ocfireflies from North Carolina on March 15, 2019:
Even though it has been awhile since I have been active on HP, I have never forgotten how much I enjoy your hubs. Like Bill, your review serves to motivate me to get back to doing more reading. Hoping you and yours are well.
ocfireflies aka Kim
Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 15, 2019:
Thank you Bill for checking in. I'm kind of a readaholic, so don't let my vices take you off the straight and narrow.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 15, 2019:
I really have to get back to reading. You are starting to inspire me, Sir!