Thursday, February 05, 2015

Eating Dostoyevsky

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Shoveling gives me time to think. And unlike my Type M colleagues who are smart enough to live in Arizona, I've had plenty of time to think lately – western Massachusetts was pounded with two feet of snow last week and got a dusting of eighteen inches Monday.

One thing I've been musing of late has been Crime and Punishment, which I've read three times since June. (Yes, I'm teaching it.) If I read it in high school, I don't remember doing so. And if I read it in college, I was too busy majoring in the college newspaper, working evenings at the local daily paper, and chasing pucks and members of the opposite sex to remember it. But now, I'm devouring the novel.

The late poet Mark Strand understood this. In his wonderful ode "Eating Poetry," he describes the sensation:
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

Maybe we all have that book we've been waiting to devour, written by that author we've been waiting to meet, waiting fall in love with. These works speak to us for many reasons, some unknown. However, as a writer of crime novels and a fan of any work in any genre that deals with the individual struggling with internal conflict and delves into utilitarian themes, questions of religion and moral and societal corruption – Crime and Punishment doesn't just speak to me; it shouts.

The book opens with our protagonist (anti hero) Raskolnikov leaving his terrible dwelling to walk to a pawnbroker – a terrible, nasty woman – whom he plans to murder in the coming days. His rationale: she won't live long, and he (and others) can benefit from the money. He even meets a police officer along the way who, theoretically, agrees with his thinking, but reminds him of the absurdity of the world, which, in a society dominated by a czar, has left Raskolnikov penniless and his sister facing what amounts to prostitution to save the family. In my Crime Literature course, we speak often about issues like socio-economics and class in the criminal justice system. Dostoyevsky was only a couple hundred years ahead of me. The universality of this crime novel? Anyone who reads the book and followed recent events in Ferguson, MO, will make the connection.

Interestingly, I figured I was the lone crime writer on planet earth to not have read Crime and Punishment. Yet I've come to realize many of my friends have not (or, like me, might have but not for many, many years). I'd urge members of the Type M community, writers and readers alike, to put a copy on your nightstand. And, once finished, tell me what you think.


Anonymous said...

I do enjoy Russian literature, and I think I'm going to take your advice and read Crime and Punishment. My husband has a minor in Russian lit from college, and I know we have a copy of it around here somewhere. Thanks for the reminder to have another look at the classics!

D.A. Keeley said...

You won't regret it. Free audio, too.