Review – The Natashas

The Natashas – Yelena Moskovich

Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love a book that is hard to sum up. The Natashas is that book.

The ever-amazing folks Dzanc Books sent me a copy of this 2018 release. Thanks, Dzanc!

Summary: Béatrice is a Parisian Jazz singer, who meets a mysterious woman named Polina. The strange woman tells her that “there are people who leave their bodies and their bodies go on living without them. These people are named Natasha. César is a Mexican actor. Bullied by his family for being gay, he dives deep into the minds of his macho, larger-than-life characters. He prepares for the role of his small career, a psychopathic serial rapist. They are drawn into a strange, coinciding plot that never quite makes sense, and that’s okay.

The book jumps through hoops of dimly lit smoke as it tries to solidify enigma and mystery into story. It is a strange, multilingual affair between strangers, between times, between places. OWe chase Béatrice and César through their childhood memories of abuse, dreams, and trauma. The building blocks of their personalities are dark, and the overarching story stands on a violent and intense foundation. Béatrice tells of sexual assault by her high-school peers, of growing up with the nickname Miss Monroe (due to her developing body), of possibly paralyzing her childhood friend when she threatens to predict Béatrice’s future. We learn of César’s detachment from love, of how he traveled to Germany to meet a lover and promptly punched the man in the face in the midst of a sexual romp, of how he addresses his inner feelings inadequacy, manhood, and neglect.

The story in The Natashas is, ultimately, really hard to sum up. It isn’t linear; it reads like a PTSD and jumps around like camera flashes in a hall of mirrors. It is jumbled together and tangled, like life often is, I suppose.

The atmospheric eeriness is the driving force. When a scene narrating Béatrice shopping for a dress jumps into a room of women all named Natasha talking about if they’ve ever been on a boat, well, it’s hard not to pay close attention. Much like a David Lynch creation, we feel like if we just look closely enough, the fragmented shards of this story will make immediate, epiphanic sense. And, much like a David Lynch film, it never really does.

The actual Natashas of the book are a ghostly group of women cooped up in an unspecified house. Led by a Head Natasha, they talk vaguely about their lives, mentioning bruises and pain and sex. Everything about this book is open to interpretation, and I gather that these girls are a representation of women who’ve been trafficked, raped, beaten, and forgotten.

This dark thread stitches together the intertwined stories of Béatrice and César. The Natashas becomes a creepy book about many things, and like a funhouse mirror, could be really different depending on the angle with which you look at it. To me, it’s a story about objectification, about using women and throwing them away. It’s about the entitlement people feel to women’s bodies, to look and touch and claim and comment on and contort. It’s about the driving force behind the ugly sides manhood, about violence and homophobia and resentment and power. This book is a ghost story about the women who leave their bodies and their pain behind.

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