Ha ha. Actually, ever since The Gulag Archipelago, I’ve tended to steer clear of the great Russian writers. Not that they’re not great; they are. But Russian writers in general do not believe in brevity. Just when you think you’ve finally grasped a point, that’s when most Russian writers are just clearing their throats. They tend to riff on the same point over the next 500 pages or so, lest you forget it. I guess that’s what comes of having a lot of time on your hands.
Even so, over the last few years I’ve been trying to read a classic here and there, to even out all the trash I read. It’s kind of like eating several bags of Cheese Curls and then having a small spinach salad so you can congratulate yourself on a healthy diet. I found Crime and Punishment on one of my Mom’s bookshelves this summer, and decided to give it a go.
It’s not one of those books you can’t put down. On the contrary, I sometimes find it hard to pick up. But once I quit looking for cliff-hanger chapter endings and accepted that it’s not just about a murder, it really isn’t a bad read. In particular, Dostoyevsky’s portrait of class and poverty and intellectual solipsism in 19th-century Russia is illuminating. Maybe because the GOP convention is going on at the same time, I find myself wondering if this blast from Russia’s past isn’t also a glimpse of the America’s future.
Social commentary aside, it also works as a straight-ahead crime novel. The murders occur early on and the perpetrator is the protagonist, so it’s not unlike a lot of modern plots. It’s a psychological thriller in that the killer is undone as much by his own tortured mind as by the genial detective who pursues him. I now appreciate how Dostoyevsky provided the foundation for a vast canon of crime fiction, extending right up to the present day. Not bad, since he wrote it around the time of the American Civil War.
Mostly, though, I just wanted to imply that I’m smarter than you. I’m reading the classics here! Sweatin’ to the oldies! No need to mention that another book I read this summer was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I actually kind of liked it. But a man doesn’t blog about such things.