Nope, it isn't a vampire story. Well, not in the traditional sense. Although there is much consuming, burning, and living in darkness.
Thirst is a short novel from Russian author Andrei Gelasimov. In 2001, Andrei self-published a story A Tender Age on the Internet and instantly became one of the most beloved Russian literary figures of modern day.
In a nutshell and on the surface, Thirst is a story that we've seen many times. A young war veteran returns home changed, physically and emotionally, only to find that life has gone on without him. Haunted and without the psychological tools to adjust, he goes through the motions, never really analyzing how he got where he is and how to become part of the world again.
Interspersed with flashbacks of his childhood, his time in the war, the rebel attack that leaves him scarred, the story tells of Konstantin's life and the few people with whom he feels a tenuous connection. Along with two other young men who were in the war with him, our hero leaves the safety of his solitude to search for a missing friend, the man who pulled them all out of the burning APV, leaving Konstantin for last, to burn the longest.
But symbolically, it is something more.
Konstantin, better known as Kostya, is the one with this thirst. But it isn't just a thirst. It's a thirst. With all the drinks around, he never seems quenched. This is because he doesn't even know that he's thirsty.
The story opens with Kostya drowning in a mountain of vodka bottles, seals unbroken, so numerous that they cannot all fit into the fridge, or into the kitchen, taking up the windowsill and the dirty clothes hamper. Wallowing in his solitude, Kostya continues with his life. The reader gets the feeling that he has come to grips with his appearance, which is never described. What he has not come to terms with is his life before the fire.
And then the quest.
Isn't there always a quest in the best stories? A quest for a ring, a quest for a chalice. The prize is not always the most important part of the journey. Sometimes it's the getting there.
Seryoga is missing. Seryoga, the young soldier who pulled the company from the burning vehicle, who took them all to safety, but left Kostya for last.
Genka and Pashka have arrived in the midst of Kostya's disarray to take him on a journey to find Seryoga whose apartment has been taken over by disreputable homeless people with whom Seryoga had associated. Despite having Pashka and Genka, who had become quite successful (even driving American SUVs) after the war, Seryoga remains on a path of destruction. Money slips through his fingers like water. His associations are less than desirable. Even Kostya has found a measure of success, although it is not as lucrative financially or emotionally as Pashka's and Genka's. Could Seryoga's haphazard drift through life be a reenactment of that haphazard trip from the safety of cover, across the bombed streets of Chechnya, to pull out his wounded brothers? Only this time, Seryoga is leaving himself behind, not Kostya. Leaving himself to burn in the wasteland of Moscow.
And into that wasteland Genka and Pashka drag Kostya to search for the man who let Kostya burn.
No reason or trace can be found of their fellow. But along the way, Kostya is forced to deal with the father he has not seen in twenty years. This great, looming man-behind-the-curtain who abandoned Kostya and his mother for a younger woman, who became the father to two new children that he never was to Kostya. And that father finds that he must come to terms with Kostya or lose him forever.
And back on the road, following clues, asking questions, running into ghosts of the past, always with the wicked shadow of Chechnya clouding out the sky.
Always, Kostya looks at the passing world from behind the mask of the war, the face the fire gave him, and the protective glass of the SUV, an almost magical war tank itself, large and expensive and part of a world that is removed from him.
Despite the water that has been prevalent in his life, Kostya has never been cleansed. Not from the ocean, not from the melting snow, or the flood of vodka that begins in his apartment and carries him to Moscow. And where was all this water, all this liquid that permeates the story, when Kostya was burning?
A man without a face. But it wasn't stripped away just by the fire. It was taken by his father's betrayal, his mother's love of a man who was less than fatherly to young Kostya and her eventual drifting away from him. One could not be a man if he didn't have a face. Different men made different faces as they drank their vodka. They all made different faces at each of the women they looked upon. And Pashka and Genka, who drifted in and out of Kostya's life as if with the tide, consuming not only their own vodka but the vodka that Kostya has bought for himself? They carried with them the memory of Kostya's face before the fire, a face that Kostya has even forgotten he had.
With many quests, the hard-won treasure can be disappointing, can show up so easily after a difficult journey that it leaves the knight bewildered and exhausted. The Great and Powerful Wizard can turn out to be an old man, just as lost and just as much on a quest for home as the haggard band of comrades who find him.
And often, like that little girl from Kansas, what the hero is searching for all that time could end up being right under his nose. Or in the mirror.