The problematics of female introspection reaches in Vishnevetskaya’s Experiences its climactic concentration. These unhappy allegorical stories, told in the first person, depict subsidiary and “background” characters, marginal individuals belonging to various social and age groups. The title of each novella in the book corresponds to the initials of the “narrator,” which usually remain undeciphered, and a hinting phrase about a unique experience, which she or he will be sharing with the reader. Structurally, each piece is reminiscent of a confessional monologue about a certain traumatic or healing encounter, which through the process of revelation — or overcoming of the self — construes the female identity in its completeness. Almost all of Vishnevetskaya’s descriptions of mundane experiences —grievance, hope, attraction, parting, monotony, etc. — can be summarized under one encompassing experience of “discovering the self.”
The most intense piece in this text, The Experience of Love, was lauded by critics and received prestigious awards in 2003. A paralyzed woman, dying from cancer and placed in a sanatorium by her relatives, is taping the story of her meager and ordinary biography.
The association between the masculine gaze and the feminine image, which has been the basis of various literary schemes and feminist theories, is treated in a curious way in The Experience of Not Partaking. In an ironic, detached voice the narrator describes his interaction with women as Japanese minimalism —he neither touches nor speaks to them — just exchanges glances. By casting a meticulously terrorizing gaze that forces a woman to freeze in either awe or inexplicable horror, he pulls her into an unfair game, one that she has already lost.
In Vishnevetskaya’s prose the sensitive and ineluctable experiences of separation and breakups appear as fundamental elements in constructing the female subjectivity. In The Experience of Other and The Experience of Disappearing, two completely dissimilar heroines — an old village woman, whose husband was killed years ago and who finds out that her sister’s children were conceived from him, and a young city girl who must reject her lover and whose mother’s clinical schizophrenia is a biological threat to her offspring—are going through an identical experience: the discovery of a certain void (or, psychoanalytically speaking, a trauma), which occurs at the moment of either affected or self-inflicted loss of a loved one. Moreover, the days and years that accumulate from this moment don’t ease the unwanted traumatic effects, but carve the very essence of the woman’s character. Such irreducible themes give Vishnevetskaya’s prose an edge and contemporaneity.
The black humor of The Experience of Demonstrating Grievance definitely stands out from the uniformly lyric tone of the book, enriching its stylistic qualities. The grotesqueness of the story is rendered through the ridiculously difficult process of choosing a proper dress that will emphasize the heroine’s femininity and attractiveness.
Vishnevetskaya’s Experiences — based on readership success and awards — is one of the most persuasive and compelling instances in the arena of contemporary Russian women’s prose. - Context Literary Magazine