So, I am an idiot and did not realize this was a book of short stories until I was well into it. Don’t ask me why. I have an ebook copy, and so there was no real description or anything to clue me into it. I just started reading, assuming it was a novel. After a few chapters there were no obvious connections between these characters and their respective stories, but that’s Ekaterina Sedia for you: she’s good at building parallel plots and then bringing it all together. Except when it turns out that she’s actually writing short stories, and you’re just being stupid.
So this has made me feel exceedingly guilty about not enjoying Moscow, But Dreaming very much. It’s probably not Sedia’s fault at all. Clearly this entire book has gone over my head.
I’d like to think it’s a mood thing. That is, if I were in a more relaxed state of mind, perhaps I could have sunk into this book, soaked in it for longer, and meditated upon what each story is trying to say. Sedia offers a diverse buffet of meal choices here. Although they all have a fantasy element to them, some are more surreal than others. As the title implies, they are all connected by Sedia’s fascination with the character of Moscow and its inhabitants after the fall of Russian communism.
Most of the protagonists in these stories are dissatisfied and disaffected. They want something their life cannot give them, something unobtainable because of their circumstances. They live in harsh worlds, with cold, unforgiving edges. Sedia likes to show the grime and grit that builds up in the spaces between our thoughts and deeds. This should be depressing, but I don’t think that’s the point—rather, Sedia is drawing upon the tradition of the darkest of those unrevised European fairytales, the ones told to children to terrify them just before bedtime.
All of this makes for very effective and compelling stories, even if they don’t always make sense on a first reading. And this is where we come back to the idea of mood and how it affects one’s experience with a book. I don’t want to say these are bad stories, because when I look at them from a craftsmanship point of view, they are exquisite. However, Sedia brings it, and that can be exhausting to read at times.
These are excellent stories if you are looking for a short collection of short fiction that you can read by the fire on a dark, stormy night. It appeals to the primal and visceral parts of us, the parts that most want to believe in fear and magic—as well as hope and romance. Don’t look to this to be a quick and easy read with likeable, or even comprehensible, characters and plots. But these stories are beautiful in their own way, and each one demonstrates Sedia’s strong ability not just to write but to create amazing, mythical places.