Download the .pdf info sheet on Patient Women.

"Larissa Shmailo’s Patient Women tells the story of Nora, a gifted young woman who comes of age in New York against heavy odds. Her Russian mother is demanding; the young men around her are uncaring; and her dependence on drink and sex leads her to a shadowy life filled with self-made demons. Yet Nora’s intelligence pulls her through the difficult times—there are even moments of (very) dark humor here. As well, an appendix of poems attributed to Nora lets us into the corners of her heart and mind."

—Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of Haywire


"Larissa Shmailo’s novel, Patient Women (and the title is absolutely meaningful, in so many ways), is a brutally honest wrestling match of truth-telling and sex. I had to put this book down and walk away from it more than once; it was a bit like holding a hot coal in my hands. And even though the subject matter is over the top, the writing is stylistically brilliant. Absolutely recommended!"

—Ron Kolm, author of Suburban Ambush and editor, Evergreen Review


"Larissa Shmailo's Patient Women explores the intersection of mind and body, posing several compelling philosophical questions to the reader:  Is gender biological or do we inscribe these social categories through our use of language?  Is it possible to separate one's intellect from one's physical being?  To what extent is language itself tactile and embodied?  As Shmailo teases out possible answers to these questions, she utilizes a variety of literary forms, which include diary entries, appendices, poems, and vignettes.  Formally adventurous and engaging, Shmailo's book is as artfully written as it is thought provoking, offering us stylistic innovation that is both daring and meaningful."

—Kristina Marie Darling, author of Scorched Altar: Selected Poems & Stories 2007-2014


"Christ-figures are likely to be cross-dressers in this engaging bildungsroman, which takes us on a wild ride through NYC nightclubs of the 1970's, rock-bottom blackouts, a whorehouse, and the slogan-filled rooms of recovery.  Surreal and lyrical, then bawdy and riotous, then plainspoken and tragic, Patient Women had me rooting hard for its lovable, drowning heroine to keep her head above water and let in grace."

— Anne Elliott,


"Nora, born to a holocaust survivor mother, finds herself, at the threshold of adolescence in “boring Queens”. Lying about her age, her first transgression from her mother’s iron rule, she begins a series of ill-fated attempts to put distance between herself and the familial web she so desperately wants to disentangle from. She reels from one dysfunctional relationship to another, druggies, pimps, losers and masochists, searching for her lovable self. This novel unfolds in a whirlwind that is sometimes dream, sometimes nightmare yet, at it’s core, is an honest tale of one woman’s coming to terms with her past in order to claim her present. Be ready to have your heart broken and then made whole."

—Bonny Finberg, author of Kali’s Day


"Larissa Shmailo’s newest work, Patient Women, is an unflinching exploration of the lasting damage some people can inflict on their children. Nora, Shmailo’s protagonist, evolves as she struggles to understand and heal her own self-hatred and her on-going self-destructive choices. Slogging one's way through a morass of denial and repression is a strong trope throughout this raw, honest book.  Nora is fiercely vulnerable and the sympathetic hero of her own salvation. This novel is dark, but there is hope that even the pain one lives through can cause one to create, finally, lasting and beautiful art."

—Joani Reese, author of Dead Letters and Night Chorus


Midwest Book Review and Books for Readers review Patient Women

from Preface: Patient Women

Out of the blackout Nora hears a voice: Don't die baby don't die baby don't die baby don't die ....

Eyes rolling, head thrashing, her back arched on the gurney, Nora's scream rips out: Get  the fucking needles out of my mouth ....

What are they doing? They are pumping her stomach they are giving her charcoal she is hooked to an I.V. again...

Which flight deck which tank St. Joseph's. St. Francis St. John's ... Oh Mother of God she's conscious she's conscious she's still alive ....


Nora was never late; she either came on time or didn't come at all. Her lover drinks a scotch he doesn't want and waits for Nora to come, Nora who is never late. From the window, he watches a young couple kiss; they are seventeen, perhaps eighteen years old. He turns away, suddenly uncomfortable, and starts calling hospitals.

Her lover finds Nora in St. Luke's. She is pissy and her face is swollen. She recognizes him. She smiles, then grimaces.

"Make them take it out of my mouth," she whispers. "Please. Please. Make him take it out of my mouth."

"They're pumping your stomach," her lover tells her, crying, "Giving you blood."

Nora's voice rises and carries down the white halls: "That's the last damn thing we need around here, new blood."

She tries to laugh but whimpers instead, then whispers, so softly that even her lover, his earnest crying face pressed close to her cheek, cannot hear her:

"I'm choking ... Doesn't he know? Make him take it out of my mouth ...."


Finished, the trick asks Nora the usual questions:

"How long have you ...?"

Nora sits on the bed and crosses her legs. "Been doing this?" she asks.

The trick nods, eager.

Eight months. Yesterday till three. Today I've been here for eleven hours. I had conjunctivitis last week and couldn't work. I had gonorrhea in October; I worked till Billy got it, too. I'll be here tomorrow and Thursday and Friday and Saturday. I'll probably be here Sunday, too.

Nora smiles at the trick. How long have I been doing this? Let me see now ...."


Nora walks through Riverside Park. Drivers curse her as she walks in front of the cars to cross the highway. She sits at the water's edge, feet dangling in the Hudson. It is drizzling; the sky is pink and brown.

Across the river, billboards and Jersey factories light up. A Jersey boy drowned in the river the last time she sat here. Nora remembered vaguely: she bought the bottle of scotch, and dragged him out of his dormitory. He didn't want to come, had to study, he said, but finally, in a moment of abandon, surrendered.

They crossed the highway and sat on the rocks by the side of the Hudson, the George Washington Bridge in the distance. Nora told him that she was depressed; the Jersey boy said he liked her that way. They drank to that, and to the dismal twilight.

After that, the blackout: like a curtain dropping, Nora remembered nothing. She came to on the grass, flat on her back, wet. Stumbling to her feet, she whispered 'Matthew' into the deep night, and ran from the park to the city streets. Somehow, she convinced a cab driver to take her to Queens. Mrs. Nader answered the door, paid for the cab and put her to bed without asking.

For three days, Nora prayed and hoped against hope that he had run away, left the city, gone cross country, was even now heading to the home of a relative or a friend.

Nora spent three days with the detectives from the 26th Precinct before his body came up near the 14th Street pier, looking for a bottle of scotch on the rocks.