I am hopelessly and helplessly condemned by my own lust for literature that I recklessly and depravedly buy books with remorseless abandon. My day job is the ever more practical occupation of freelance musician. I'm not rich. Which makes my licentious book purchasing all the more irresponsible.
Monday, November 19, 2012
White Nights and Other Stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My favorite genre of literature is classical.My favorite time period is the nineteenth
century. Favorite authors?Russian.Favorite Russian authors?Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky!
When I moved to Texas
several years ago, the men who moved my furniture (if boxes of books qualify as
furniture) were from Russia.I got into a conversation with one of the men
about Russian literature.I mentioned to
him my predilection for Russian authors and how much I enjoyed Dostoyevsky in
particular.The man looked at me a
moment, then tapped his forehead.He
said, “Dostoyevsky was crazy, you know that?”
I don’t know if
Dostoyevsky was certifiably insane or not, but his writing does seem to express
the soul of a tortured individual.But
never without hope.That is why I love
his writings so much.Dostoyevsky never
shies away from writing stories about people whose ‘hearts are desperately
wicked’ but, unlike secular humanist writers, he doesn’t stop with the despair.In spite of evil circumstances and unstable,
selfish people, power and hope course through the veins of each story.
Dostoyevsky never preaches, yet God is written on every
page.His presence is declared as it is
in nature.To compare, read a story
written by a secularist, such as Anton Chekov or Albert Camus or just about any
20th century writer.The difference
is striking.Their characters are left
adrift. At the end of the story you’re left asking, what was the point?In Dostoyevsky’s stories, no matter how hard
life becomes, no matter how wickedly a person acts there is the sense that God
is still holding them in the palm of their hand.
White Nights and
Other Stories is a collection of short stories with Dostoyevsky’s trademark peculiarities.Each story keeps you guessing with many
twists and turns in the plots and events.
His stories are darkly psychological in nature.Often, he has the reader following the
rambling thoughts of the protaganists giving us a first person account of how
the hero perceives his environment and how he reacts to it. The first two
stories, The Honest Thief and An UnpleasantPredicament show this- the first as
a man wrestles with his conscience over a theft he has made and the second when
a man from an upper class crashes the wedding of his subordinate.He doesn’t shy away from putting his
characters in awkward situations and we suffer with them as they struggle to
Some of his stories are simply zany from a superficial view
but contain a message that exposes certain facets of Russian society.In Another Man’s Wife, we’re led on a merry
chase with a man who suspects his wife of infidelity.He follows a man he believes is her lover, only
to enter the wrong door and ends up in the apartment of a strange woman.While trying to explain his presence to the
startled woman, her husband can be heard climbing the stairwell.In order to avoid a confrontation, the man
hides under her bed.To his
surprise he finds another man already hiding there.You’ll have to read the story to find out how
it all resolves.
In The Crocodile, an ambitious business man visits an animal
exhibition and falls into the crocodile pit where he is gobbled up by you know
what.He does not die, however, and
refuses to be rescued as he believes that living in the crocodile will increase
his standing in society.He even insists
that his wife join him.While these
stories seem crazy, a larger picture of 19th century Russian culture
and values is drawn.
Bobok is about a man who dies and is buried in a cemetery
but remains conscious.He lies in his
coffin listening to the conversations of all the other dead people.We, of course, listen too, and hear some very
interesting stories from people who came from all walks of life but are now
lying together in a grave yard.
The title story, White Nights is about a man whose character
must have been inspired by Dostoyevsky’s own impulsive, passionate nature.The man falls in love and wishes to marry a
lonely young woman confined to a life of living with her grandmother.The woman is waiting for her lover, who has
promised to return and marry her on a certain day.The time is approaching and the woman is
losing hope.Will the man return?Who will she marry?Or will she get married at all?
Each story pulls the reader in and arrests them until the
end.I don’t believe anyone will be able
to put down the book in the middle of any of these novellas.If you’re a lover of Russian classic
literature and especially Fyodor Dostoyevsky, you will enjoy this collection.