Well, the unthinkable has happened. I have read a book of Dostoevsky’s writing, and I have absolutely nothing to whine about. Dostoevsky positively shines in short form. Each of the seven short stories in the collection I read featured both a plot and a perfectly acceptable amount of rambling— so acceptable, in fact, that I can’t even really call it rambling.
The collection starts out with “White Nights,” which the author calls “a sentimental love story.” It was nice of Dostoevsky to warn me about what I was getting into, but I didn’t find it sentimental at all. Given that it’s a Russian tale, there was a nicely subtle bitterness to it that kept me from wanting to puke. Basically, a girl likes two dudes. The expected drama ensues, she picks one, and the other is all, “Well, at least I had her for a moment,” except it’s Dostoevsky, so he says, “Good Lord, only a moment of bliss? Isn’t such a moment sufficient for the whole of a man’s life?” As far as happy endings go, that’s one of the more sorrowful I’ve ever read.
“The Honest Thief” and “The Peasant Marey” are character sketches. In both stories, the plot is straightforward and static and the characters are complex and thoughtful. This sort of writing makes me squirm— it’s so easy to identify with the scummy motives or intense feelings the characters are experiencing.
“The Christmas Tree and a Wedding” is a pleasantly creepy story of pedophilia and greed. Over the course of nine pages, a sticky-fingered old man hits on a little girl born to a rich family, charms her mother, and marries the child, who is just old enough to realize that she’s going to live the rest of her life in despair.
“Notes From the Underground” was the first story that I was apprehensive about. Given that it’s the longest in this collection, I was expecting Dostoevsky to relapse into tangents, but instead he takes you through the ins and outs of his main character’s brain as he analyzes himself and philosophizes about the world. And as an added bonus, things actually happen. The story hops back and forth from introspection to action frequently enough to keep even my attention span engaged.
“A Gentle Creature” and “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” I read during the delirium of illness, so while I got the general idea of the stories, I didn’t pick up on any of the subtleties. I’m going to go ahead and assume they were as awesome as the others.
So kudos to Dostoevsky. In short form, the philosophy and psychology of his writing is clear and sharp. I’m not recanting what I’ve said about him before, but I have a new appreciation for his writing after having read these stories.