The twelve scintillating short stories in Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Stories, the first English collection by cardiologist Maxim Osipov, are brilliant. Not one disappoints. Osipov’s style and subjects are reminiscent of Anton Chekhov and Ivan Turgenev ... encourages hope of survival in a sometimes hopeless world. It opens windows to unknown, unseen, unheralded lives.
... an ironically glitzy English language debut for an unassuming middle-aged writer who lives outside of Russia’s glamorous capitals of Moscow and St. Petersburg ... readers from any part of the world that is facing a healthcare crisis (including the United States) will recognize the dynamics he portrays. As access to care becomes increasingly restricted by rising costs, insurance bureaucracy, and hospital deserts, the stories show what that we lose not just information about our health. We lose someone to talk to ... gestures deeper than simply documenting the struggles people face in finding convenient and reliable healthcare. It explores the narrative function of medicine and the storytelling potential that exists in the doctor-patient relationship ... With this new beautiful and heartbreaking collection of stories, Maxim Osipov, doctor, writer, resident of Tarusa, never lets us forget that our lives are special, and they will never come again.
It’s not clear how the editor, Boris Dralyuk, and the other two expert translators, Alex Fleming and Anna Marie Jackson, selected the stories. I’m guessing it’s to show Osipov’s admirable range of characters and presentations — but soon it should be up to someone to take on the full contents of individual volumes ... Though immersed in his life as a doctor, Osipov is a literary soul, and he regularly quotes from or refers to the classics; maybe the short form and plays just happen to fit the speed of busy doctors. We know he’s not Chekhov, though, who in his early 20s dashed off stories seemingly between patients. And Chekhov didn’t exhibit any of Osipov’s hesitancy about how to do this business of telling a story. Osipov is more deliberate, and a couple of the stories feel overworked, fit for The New Yorker. Like Chekhov, he dates the completion of each story ... I don’t jump on every Russian literary bandwagon I see wheeling past, but I’ll jump on this one.
Osipov writes with a gentle tone that is frequently unsettled, as shocks of violence (four murders, among other things) disrupt the initial, apparent quietude. The violent events rupture everyday life, and the quiet atmospheres Osipov cultivates bring this contrast to the fore, rendering violence both utterly banal and difficult to reconcile with the otherwise mundane reality the reader has been introduced to ... moments of violence emerge in unexpected and isolated bursts, within tales otherwise characterized by melancholy contemplation of home, community, and love ... Over and over, however, his stories portray both youthful restlessness and settling down as illusions from the past—as distant as the worlds of Chekhov and Tolstoy ... Osipov brings us characters uprooted and unfixed, homeless and in transit, in the end of their stories as at the beginning, so that maintenance of the mundane appears delicate, constantly on the verge of dissolution ... Like Chekhov’s, Osipov’s stories present skepticism of the potential for art to uncover meaning in life. Like Chekhov, Osipov keeps any moment of revelation outside of the scope of the story. Many of his stories are depictions of single expanded moments filled with lifetimes and even generations of feeling ... He packs his stories with extremely particular feeling and experience, subverting the demands of a linear narrative: a beginning is also an end. The story is over before it has even begun.
Anyone looking for digestible morals for the clinician, or balms for the patient, need not read Maxim Osipov’s short-story collection Rock, Paper, Scissors. ... Little lies, shortcuts, elisions—put more generously, a little theater—color nearly every interaction ... In these stories, the borders between hope, delusion and dishonesty are hazy and heavily trafficked ... Dr. Osipov is a master of dramatic irony, wringing bittersweet humor from what the reader sees but the protagonist cannot ... As in the children’s game that gives the collection its title, Dr. Osipov shows how people dwarfed by institutions can make purposeful moves with nonetheless arbitrary outcomes. His characters sense the game and know the score. Their antics and soliloquies, however, do something to ease the long hours on the hospital wards and the sickness of lives that fail to change.
... a marvelous collection of short stories in which not very much happens ... Osipov clearly carries the weight of Chekhov’s and Bulgakov’s influence not only in his mix of professions, but also in his sense of humor—which is, to say the least, deadpan. Like Chekhov, too, many of Osipov’s stories meander along without a clearly delineated plot or, in the end, a sense of resolution. He is clearly concerned with Russia’s place in the modern world. Several stories, including the one about the airport-hopping doctor, comment on the way that Americans, at least superficially, seem to be driven by rules and regulations, a need for order. Back home, all those things have a way of going to hell ... Remarkable stories, threaded through with a bleak humor, describe life in the provinces of a Russia attempting to contend with the modern world.