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Killing Dostoevsky

August 26th, 2017

Last Painful Read in a Series

It’s time to give a progress report on my trudge through the Columbia College Literature Humanities reading list.

For a long time now, I’ve been dreading Dostoevsky. He writes long, long books, and up until now, I hated the only one I had ever started. As I approached the book I’m reading now, that memory did not encourage me.

Crime and Punishment is one of the last items on my list, and I figured it would be even more boring and painful than The Iliad and the heinous, overrated, affirmative-action-receiving-for-being-Spanish Don Quixote. Surprise! Dostoevsky isn’t that bad. I would say it’s 10% less boring than Dickens, and that puts it well within the “tolerable” category.

C&P (as we Dostoevsky buffs call it) is about a guy who SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER NOW YOU CAN’T SAY YOU WEREN’T ASKING FOR IT murders a couple of women in order to get their money and valuables. The murderer is a starving former student named Raskolnikov. He kills a pawnbroker and her sister (the Ron Goldman of the story) with a hatchet. That happens early in the book, and then, I guess, Dostoevsky explores the terrible ordeal he goes through, dealing with the guilt.

The obvious problem with this story is that a person who feels terrible about murdering innocent people for small amounts of money will never commit the crime in the first place. But let’s let that slide.

Here’s where I am in the book: Raskolnikov has killed the women, and he has become physically ill from guilt. He lost at least part of the swag because he felt so bad after the killings, he didn’t care much about the loot. Again–sorry to mention it after saying we would let it slide–this is not how actual criminals think. A person like this would not murder you for money.

There are a couple of interesting things about the book.

I don’t know whether Dostoevsky gives an accurate picture of Russian culture, but I have a feeling he does, because it reminds me of things I’ve seen in news stories and articles. The people in the book treat each other like relatives. They call each other by their middle names, for example. Imagine your name is Rupert Horatio McMurtry. In C&P Russia, coworkers, people you do business with, and slight acquaintances would call you “Rupert Horatio,” as if they were your mom and you were in trouble. “Rupert Horatio, what is this thing you have done with the axe?” “Rupert Horatio, you cannot leave the house without your galoshes.” People in your extended Russian circle would be all up in your business like the hamster and the creepy Girl Scouts in the old Sprint Framily commercials.

In addition to being way too chummy when they speak, C&P Russians are very presumptuous about stepping in and helping other people when they’re down and out. They go in and out of Raskolnikov’s apartment when he’s sick, bringing him food and medical care and buying him clothes.

If Russians actually look after each other the way they do in C&P, it must be wonderful to live in Russia and have a lot of people you can rely on when you have serious, difficult problems. On the other hand, it’s nice to be able to do stupid things without having to fight a bunch of random individuals who don’t have proper standing to meddle with your life. “Rupert Horatio, what have I told you about trans-fats?” “Rupert Horatio, I see someone didn’t go to the gym today.” Too much help.

Another strange thing about C&P: in Dostoevsky’s Russia, it is apparently completely acceptable to beat women. Not just your wife. All women. You can beat your neighbor’s wife if you want. There’s a bit in the book where Raskolnikov encounters a bunch of women at some kind of social gathering, and most of them have black eyes. Dostoevsky doesn’t present it as a disturbing depiction of a sick society that needs reform. He mentions it the way you would mention kids wearing saggy pants at the mall. Just part of the scenery. You go to a party where single men and women are socializing, and most of the women have been punched in the face by the men. And they’re still at the party.

Vodka must be a hell of a drug.

I’m afraid I may know where Dostoevsky is going. Please don’t spoil it for me, because this book is not that entertaining, and telling me the ending will make it worse. I suspect Raskolnikov will never be caught. I suspect that “punishment” really means the suffering he endures because he is never punished. So far, no one has any inkling that he’s the axe murderer, and their kind attention during his illness is driving him nuts.

I’m past the point where the cops drag an innocent suspect in. Maybe Raskolnikov will have to watch him hang, and then, given his pointless waste of the things he stole, maybe he’ll confess so they can hang him, too.

The last Lit. Hum. book I read was Pride and Prejudice, which might as well have been titled Telegraphed Punch Romance, because it was always obvious how it would end. Darcy was going to SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER turn out to be a great guy, and Elizabeth was going to marry him and feel real bad about thinking he was conceited and cruel. I hope C&P doesn’t turn out the same way. Mainly, though, I hope I get through it quickly. The last two items on the reading list should be much more entertaining, so C&P is the last big push near the end of a terrible labor, in which I deliver a large, dry baby covered with velcro.

I would like to be done with this book. It’s depressing. The people are hopeless. They have no connection at all to God. No one answers their prayers. They struggle and fail, in their own strength. They live in squalor and humiliation.

My move to Ocala has had its depressing side. I’ve had the stress of unexpected expenses, and my dad has lost more of his ability to take care of himself. I still have a lot to do, with less help, just when I thought I was expected to be wrapping things up. I don’t need a depressing book, reminding me what it’s like to have lots of problems and no hope.

The up side of the unforeseen problems is that I am drawn to God by them. I know that if my prayer life is good, answers will appear and stress will fade. If my prayer life is not good, I could fall into a world of insurmountable setbacks and remorse. The strain of having no help is more than I am willing to tolerate, so I have good incentive to pray and do what I know to do.

I got myself some cheap wine and crackers, and I’m doing communion every day. I’m getting back to serious prayer in tongues. I am a bit less busy, so I spend more time with God.

Sometimes I feel I should put off praying, get out of bed or out of my chair, and get to work on this or that problem, but then I realize something: when I’m praying, I am working on my problems. Prayer, blessing, and cursing are much more powerful than effort. If I am aligned with God, no problem can withstand me. If not, nothing I do in my natural strength will help, and my problems will overcome me.

Some Christians like to say people with my attitude are “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” That’s not in the Bible, folks. Elijah made the rain cease for three years by praying, and he ended the drought the same way. Try doing that with effort. Moses parted the Red Sea by standing at the shore and saying a few words. Jesus brought Lazarus out of a tomb by speaking to him. You can’t tell me effort is more important than supernatural tools. That’s pride, and pride, according to the Bible, causes God to fight you.

What did Jesus say when Martha complained that Mary was sitting at his feet instead of helping with dishes and cooking? He said Mary had “chosen the better part.”

Either this stuff works or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, you might as well be a Buddhist and do whatever you like. I have found that the supernatural tools of Christianity work.

It’s too bad Raskolnikov never learned about the power of serving God, but I suppose I shouldn’t feel too bad, because he had a great advantage that negates all the harm: he was fictional.

It is time to get out the cracker. I suggest you do the same!

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