by Yelena Moskovich
Dzanc Books (2018)
I have a confession to make: it took me a long time to read The Natashas, the debut novel from Yelena Moskovich. This had nothing to do with the book—rather, a chaotic life filled with turbulent ups and downs, and plenty of philosophical, spiritual, and existential crises and explorations.
I start with that confession not to make myself the center of attention, but because it made me wholly susceptible to the charms of Moskovich’s work. All of her characters are in their own crises, with professional successes or opportunities straining against the deep, unsettled dissatisfaction and frustrations of their personal and inner lives. These characters, particularly Béatrice and César, two young artists (she a jazz singer, he an actor) struggling to reconcile themselves with some semblance of society, are dark, conflicted, at least partially miserable, and clear, strong symbols of the gender and sexual roles expected of their backgrounds and cultures. While my relation to these themes was fairly direct and raw, I think any reader would recognize something of themselves in the story (for better or worse), even as the grounded reality of the work splinters and becomes surreal, magical, otherworldly.
And oh, does it become surreal. I’m panicked to spoil anything, but rest assured that dead relatives and acquaintances, ethereal lovers, ghostly emails, mystery villains, and a collection of abused lost souls—all named Natasha—appear with some frequency. This is part of the magic of the novel; the real-world, actual plot is fairly straightforward—buying a dress for a singing gig, auditioning for a role in a television show—but everything revolving around the plot is transfixing, almost paralyzing in its fascinating unreality. The back cover of the novel name-drops David Lynch twice, and as a certifiable Lynch devotee, I couldn’t agree more. It’s the perfect comparison, with striking parallels to the director’s work and themes while remaining wholly its own beast. Imagine Mulholland Drive focused on the youth of Paris, with striking, believable dialogue and scenes and backgrounds that paint a beautiful, if perplexing, picture. And it’s that perplexity that makes The Natashas such an artistic triumph; the pieces are placed, the rules are established, and it is ultimately up to the reader to truly define what the novel means for them. At least in my personal opinion, that’s what great art does.
I could talk about this novel for days. I could speak more about the darkness, the unsettling undercurrent of sexual impropriety, the barely perceptible hints of horrific familial secrets that make Béatrice’s story so tragic. I could rave about Moskovich’s brilliant pacing, and how the quick chapters and page-turner like quality of her prose add to the surrealist quality of the work. I could talk about the sheer bravery of this novel, its utter uniqueness, how it reaffirms the power of art and story. I could pull quote after quote, excerpt after excerpt. But I think you need to read this yourself. You need to experience The Natashas to truly grasp the fullness of Moskovich’s achievement. This is a must-read.
Sean L. Corbin