Third time wasn’t the charm. I’ve tried twice before to read Buddha’s Little Finger, and it just didn’t catch with me. This time around was no different.
Usually I describe reading Viktor Pelevin with a short monologue accompanied by hand gestures. “It’s like somebody opened up your brain” — both hands held together to form something like a sphere, and then rotating the one representing the top over to the side as if there were a hinge between them — “and did this” — holding the lower hand in a bowl shape still, then making a mixing and scrambling motion with the forefinger of the other hand — “and then closed it back” — doing the hinge gesture in reverse, so as to end with a sphere again. I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t what everyone wants a book to do. Even I don’t want a steady stream of it. But from time to time, it’s kinda awesome.
My favorite of Pelevin’s books is A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories. These stories bring fantastic and surreal elements into early post-Communist Russia in a way that still leaves me amazed. He captures not just the grimness of Russian life at that period, but the inherent weirdness, and then uses that as a springboard to go to unexpected places. The title story is about exactly what it says. Then there’s “The Prince of Gosplan,” which is something like a day in the life of a mid-level bureaucrat crossed with an Infocom text-adventure game, with no in-story preference about which element is real. And half a dozen more genre-bending mind-stretching tales.