Fiction Chronicle
Published: August 29, 2008
By Irina Reyn.
Touchstone, $24.

It takes a lot of self-confidence to suggest that your first novel is a modern-day retelling of “Anna Karenina.” But once you’re finished marveling at Reyn’s audacity, her formidable storytelling gift sweeps you along and keeps you turning the pages in rapt anticipation, even as you’re aware that the sound in the distance is the rumble of that inevitable approaching train. This Anna is the assimilated, Manhattan-dwelling daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants who still live in Rego Park, Queens, where the women shop at discount stores with names like Parisian Chic and a representative male suitor wears his “Gucci label mysteriously affixed to the outside of his clothing.” When Anna marries a wealthy Russian businessman, it takes about 20 minutes for her to begin wishing she’d ended up with someone more like her cousin Katia’s boyfriend, David, an academic who lives downtown, runs marathons and woos Anna by name-dropping Nabokov over their coffee-shop assignations. The Moscow-born Reyn clearly knows a thing or two about straddling cultures; she can also straddle the line between cheekiness and reverence with aplomb.
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