Buddha’s Little Finger by Viktor Pelevin

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.

The Life of Insects and The Yellow Arrow both scratched a similar itch. But Buddha’s Little Finger? I don’t know. I bounced off of its surface and was never drawn to its depths. Maybe next time.

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