Thursday, January 10, 2013

Money, Money, Money: Slapovskii’s Day for Money

Once upon a time there was a writer named Aleksei Slapovskii who wrote a book called День денег, which we might call Money’s Day or A Day for Money in English. Mr. Slapovskii wrote this novel a long, long time ago, during the nasty 1990s, after the Soviet Union fell apart. The book might not have fulfilled all Mr. Slapovskii’s wildest dreams but it landed him on the Russian Booker Prize shortlist for 2000, a genie-worthy wish for many Russian writers.

A Day for Money takes place in Saratov, a kingdom that’s far, far away from Moscow, and it’s a story about three silly local men: an unemployed guy named Snake, a writer called Writer, and a bureaucrat known as Parfyon. One day, when they’re all a little bored or broke or maybe hungover, they meet up and find a whole lot of money on the street! They immediately do what any men who are bored, broke, or maybe hungover would do: they buy some vodka, cigarettes, and snacks.

But poor Snake, Writer, and Parfyon don’t know what to do with all that money. Spending or investing it would be too easy and real-life for a book that’s written rather like a combination of faux folktale and picaresque so they look at options like giving money (a.k.a. granting wishes, or so they think) to people with difficult lives. If only it were that easy to wave a magic wand and give away thousands of dollars! During the course of Mr. Slapovskii’s story, our trio comes face to face with gritty perils like poverty and alcoholism—not to mention prostitutes, cab drivers, and fellow bureaucrats—but they just can’t seem to make wishes come true with money. Maybe money doesn’t buy happiness after all?

Luckily for Snake, Writer, Parfyon, and this reader, someone rides up in a big steed of a car to save them and take the money off their hands so the book can end after 179.5 pages. And just in time! It’s not that A Day for Money is horribly awful—other than trying too horribly, awfully hard to be funny—it’s just that I feel like I’ve been there, done that with other books (including, alas, others by Slapovskii…) and A Day for Money feels a little too much like a time machine, thanks to its mythology—perceived grotesqueries—of the nineties. It feels to me like a fanciful period piece where the meaning of life is at the dump, there’s nobody to admire, and everything comes with a cost. Like finding money on the street, it feels a little too easy. Alas, so do references to Venedikt Yerofeev’s Москва-Петушки, a whole other type of folktale that’s often known as Moscow to the End of the Line in English. All kinds of fictional people seem to pay homage to Yerofeev through their tendency to drink quickly, an action rooted in the phrase “И немедленно выпил.

Up next. After the disappointment of A Day for Money, I found far more readerly satisfaction in Valerii Popov’s painfully sad Dance to the Death, where absolutely nobody lives happily ever after.

Image credit: “cash money notes 1” from user darrendean, via 


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