Collectionizing: Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia
I wasn’t intending to read more fiction by Ekaterina Sedia. I tried The Secret History of Moscow and Heart of Iron and although I loved the prose and characters, I found myself not meshing with the novels in the end.
At my local library branch the staff stocks a section of shelves with new books. Some are chosen to be displayed face out. So it was one day last month that I saw the cover of Moscow But Dreaming. The title and cover image drew me to it. Then I noticed the author. I thought for a minute. I thought: maybe I will enjoy her short fiction more. I checked the book out.
I’m very glad that I did.
Moscow But Dreaming is a fantastic collection of short fiction. I liked every single story. I really liked at least 3/4 of the stories. And several blew my mind. I hate to use the word haunting because it sounds so cliched. But when you find images or moments from stories floating in and out of your conscious days later then what else can you call it?
Haunting, sad, dark, lyrical, vivid stories.
Best Story: almost impossible to determine, but if forced to decide, I’m going to say “Citizen Komarova Finds Love”. The characters, exquisite details and lyrical prose work together more powerfully than any of the other stories and the ending lands. Big time.
Favorite Story: Well, it’s either “Chapaev and the Coconut Girl” (so convincing in its characterization and sentiment) or “The Bank of Burkina Faso” (genius idea that adds extra layers to the central conceit) or “Cherrystone and Shards of Ice” (a zombie story with almost a sword and sorcery feel — the most pulpy of the bunch). Chapaev is what I’m leaning towards at the moment.
Funniest Story: “The Bank of Burkina Faso”. Because of the dogs.
Story that fell flat for me: “There Is a Monster under Helen’s Bed”. I feel that the parents were drawn too broadly.
Best ending: Citizen Komarova, of course. Sedia’s endings are all strong. Next might be “You Dream”. Or “Kikimora”. I think sometimes she goes for a little too much abstract meaning, but she can pull it off. Actually, I may be wanting too much lyrical in my best ending. So it’s Citizen Komarova as best overall, but “A Handsome Fellow” and “Tin Cans” tie for both being such a punch to the gut.
A note about “A Short Encyclopedia of Lunar Seas”: I strained at first to find threads weaving through the entries. This was the wrong approach. It’s an encyclopedia. The entries are best considered on their own without the burden of adding up to something (although, of course, they are all of a mood and are linked by the themes of loss and death and memory). My favorite sea is “10. The Sea of Vapors (Mare Vaporum)”. The penultimate sentence of the entry was surprising and perfect and the final sentence is a killer.