A dense, tense and intense collection of thirteen short stories dealing with heavy issues, from violence, bullying, abuse and cruelty to social exclusion and homophobia, Games with Greta & Other Stories is a broken mirror, reflecting various aspects of life for queer women in Slovenian society, which, like most post-communist countries in Europe, seems still to be struggling with prejudice.
The stories vary substantially in length, but also, more importantly, in atmosphere and language, ranging from naturalistic descriptions of relationship issues, to more poetic, fairy-tale stories, or even parables. The title story ‘Games with Greta’ sees two little girls urging each other on to ever-more dangerous acts – a chicken gets its head chopped off and one of the girls almost falls into a dry well. My absolute favourite is another story from the ‘parable’ category, ‘Sewing the Princess’, about an almost magical world – a safe haven provided to a bullied girl by a local seamstress. They sit together and sew and create the perfect ‘princess dress’. The dress turns out to be the perfect form of revenge for the girl on her bullies and for the seamstress on her sister. This story made me think of a chapter from Wioletta Greg’s Swallowing Mercury in which another formidable seamstress character is visited by the child protagonist.
Tratnik’s narrators – most of the stories are narrated in the first person – are driven by a hunger for power and control, but they are often presented to us in those moments when they lose that control, when they stop thinking rationally and let their passions or desire take over. In some cases the line between pleasing the object of their desire and harming them becomes blurred, even crossed. Blood flows – literally and metaphorically.
As well as the dark issues described in those stories, there is also quite a lot of humour. In ‘Geographical Positions’, Tratnik makes fun of our attempts to categorize things – the absurdity and futility of it; its relativity. About reading maps she says:
‘Fine, east and west – right and left. Right is east, that’s where Russians and communism are; left is west, where Americans and other capitalists are. You can try to remember it all like this: on the right are communists, who are politically left wing, and on the left are the capitalists, who are politically right wing.’
Sometimes Tratnik adds a line of an incredible lyrical beauty in the middle of a seemingly naturalistic sequence: ‘His drunken brother was like a fountain that alternately gurgled up curse words, disgusting whimpers, unfocused anger, and bits of half-digested food’. And: ‘I raise my hands up to my neck and squeeze. I empty the skull of its expressionless eyeballs and once and for all rescue it from the rolling splinters of my straw childhood.’
This is a very interesting collection: multifaceted, like life itself, mixing laughter with sexual desire, cruelty and violence with boredom, hunger for power with resignation; related by Tratnik with a certain bitterness and striking directness.
Reviewed by Anna Blasiak
GAMES WITH GRETA & OTHER STORIES
Written by Suzana Tratnik
Translated from the Slovenian by Michael Biggins, Tamara Soban, Špela Bibič, Mojca Šoštarkoand Elizabeth Žargi
Published by Dalkey Archive Press (2016)
This review was originally published in The Queer Riveter in June 2019.