A modern take on a tragic romance.
All happy heroines resemble one another, each unhappy one is unhappy in her own way. Although, actually, readers of Irina Reyn’s debut novel, What Happened to Anna K. might notice that her heroine’s brand of unhappiness bears certain similarities to a tragic figure of classic Russian literature.
Reyn, a Russian-American who emigrated from Moscow as a child, has scooped up Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and carried her over to the New World with her – lock, stock, and affair. Her Anna K. is a Russian Jew whose family lives in a Russian enclave in Queens. Fast approaching middle age with a dead-end job in publishing, Anna agrees to marry the wealthy Alex K. She has a baby, Serge, and is still sorting out the compromises of her life when she sets eyes on her younger cousin Katia’s boyfriend, an adjunct professor and would-be novelist.
Anna K., a romantic who read “Wuthering Heights” 14 times growing up, has always longed to be the main character of a novel – preferably a big 19th-century one by a literary giant. “She would imagine it was she who was the heroine, willing powerful lovers to prostrate themselves before her, allowing them to sob their love to her in the middle of a rainstorm, at balls, inside carriages.” (Reyn has a great deal of fun with such jokes – on Page 5, for example, she announces that “ever since she was a little girl, Anna had loved trains.”)