Before I begin, I just want to say I recently found out that this book is 752 pages long!! ACK! My resolve to push through no matter what jiggled like Jell-O when I discovered this. But it does explain why I feel like I’m reading and reading and reading and reading and making little progress. (It is probably for the best that I’m reading this on my Kindle. If I had a physical copy, I think I would have passed out from seeing how many more pages I had to slog through.)
I also took a little break before reading the next “assigned” sections, and it was quite difficult to return. This wasn’t a book that called my name even once when I was away from it.
Book 4: Strains (<—–a good description of how the reader feels)
The Story So Far (As Far As I Can Tell): So after a detour to meet an ascetic monk (who was an amusing crusty old bugger) who disapproves of Aloysha’s mentor Father Zosima and various monks standing around trying to make sense of Father Zosima’s dying ramblings (Hey! I know your pain, monks! I feel like this whole books is a dying rambling that I can’t make sense of!), Alyosha gets shooed out of the monastery by Father Z to take care of his business from the previous day.
So Aloysha is off and running around town—going to see his father (bruised and cranky) and to Madame Khokhlakov’s house (where Lise who sent the letter lives). But on the way to the Khokhlakov’s, Aloysha sees a group of schoolboys ganging up on a lone schoolboy. They are throwing rocks at each other. Naturally, Aloysha gets involved and tries to get the boys to stop picking on the lone boy. But the boy ends up throwing rocks AT Aloysha (the only character so far who hasn’t professed instant and dying love for Aloysha).The boys imply that the boy is a bit of a violent psycho, which is proven when the boy bites Aloysha’s finger quite badly. Being Aloysha, he doesn’t get upset but seeks understanding for why the boy acted this way toward him. Faced with this kind of understanding and compassion, the boy runs away crying.
At the Khokhlakov’s house, Aloysha finds Ivan with Katerina. Turns out, Ivan and Katerina love each other but torture each other by pretending that they don’t. (A fact that Aloysha points out to them.) Katerina pushes things a little too far, and Ivan leaves in a huff to go back to Moscow. Then Katerina asks Aloysha to give some money to a captain that Dmitri insulted at one point, and (being a bit of a lap dog/errand boy), Aloysha agrees and sets off.
Lo and behold, the captain’s son is the boy who bit Aloysha’s finger! (Who’duthink?) Naturally, a very long conversation occurs, and Aloysha offers the money as restitution to the captain, who really needs the money for his family. But, at the last second, he proudly refuses the money and storms off.
- The women in this book come off as completely crazy. Katerina is a hysterical nutcase; Madame Khokhlakov rambles crazily from one subject to the next; and Lisa appears to have bipolar disorder. It makes you wonder what Dostoevsky thinks of women.
- My first chuckle (and it was a small one, to be sure) occurs when a visiting monk is hanging out with Mr. Hard-Core Ascetic Monk and keeps pestering him with questions. Allow me to share.
“There’s the Holy Ghost and there’s the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can appear as other birds—sometimes as a swallow, sometimes as a goldfinch, and sometimes as a blue-tit.”
“How do you know him from an ordinary tit?”
“How does he speak, in what language?”
“And what does he tell you?”
“Well, today he told me that a fool would visit me and would ask me unseemly questions. You want to know too much, monk.”
Book 5: Pro and Contra (Or, Never Eat Dinner with Ivan As He’ll Dominate The Conversation)
The Story So Far (As Far As I Can Tell): Aloysha goes back to the Khokhlakov’s home, where he and Lise profess their love for each other and plan to get married at some point. Scandal alert: Aloysha plants a kiss on Lise! Lise’s mother is not a happy camper about the marriage. Then Aloysha runs off to find Dimitri and ends up eavesdropping on Smerdyakov romancing a local girl. Aloysha finds out that Dmitri might be having dinner with Ivan, so Aloysha rushes off to find them. (I tell you … Aloyosha is always rushing off somewhere in this book!) So Aloysha catches up with Ivan at the restaurant (Dmitri is a no show), and they proceed to have a very very very very very very long discussion about (among other things): God and how could He permit children to suffer and how Ivan finds it easier to love mankind in general rather than individual people. Then Ivan recites a long long long story (“The Grand Inquisitor” ) that I totally skimmed over. (OK … I’ll be 100% honest. I skipped the whole thing and just read a summary on SparksNotes.)
Aloysha and Ivan say goodbye (forever … or until Ivan is 30 or something) and then, instead of following Aloysha, we follow Ivan back to his father’s house, where he meets up with Smerdyakov and has the ding-dongiest of conversations in which Ivan is constantly saying things he doesn’t mean to say and Smerdyakov goes on about these secret signals that he and Fyodor set up but that Smerdyakov “accidentally” told to Dmitri, and how he (Smerdyakov) thinks he’ll have an eplilepsy attack tomorrow (wink wink, nudge nudge), and how his adoptive parents will be out of commission due to some medicine they both plan on taking, and how he’s afraid that Dmitri might bust in during that time and kill Fyodor. Smerdyakov begs Ivan to not go to Moscow but to a town that is closer but Ivan refuses. Then Ivan says goodbye to his father, and his father asks him to stop by the town that Smerdyakov wanted him to go to in order to settle some kind of deal for him and Ivan reluctantly agrees but decides at the last minute not to do it.
- It struck me that Lise had weirdly specific ideas about Aloysha’s clothing once he gets rid of his monk’s robes. Odd.
- I wonder if Dostoevsky had an editor because he sure could use one. Each time the story gets moving along and I get engaged somewhat, he throws in an endless philosophy scene that just stops everything. The whole Ivan/Aloysha dinner scene was excruciatingly painful and I felt like it was never going to end.
- The whole Ivan/Smerdyakov conversation seemed like a (really obvious) ploy for Dostoeyesky to set-up that Smerdyakov is going to kill Fyodor but frame Dmitri for it.
- Each time I take a break from this book, it becomes harder to return to it.
- I will not be defeated. I will press on.
Book 6: The Russian Monk (OR Hey, Let’s Take A Break And Learn All About Father Zosima!)
The Story So Far (As Far As I Can Tell): So Aloysha makes it back in time for Father Zosima to tell his life story. (For a man on his deathbed and short of breath, he’s able to go on for three whole books.) We learn about his childhood, why he loves Aloysha so much (he reminds him of his dead brother), why Zosima became a monk, and then a bunch of teachings about how monks should behave and the Russian peasantry and such. Exhausted from his speechmaking, he ups and dies.
- This section was much more readable and lucid. It’s a shame that Zosima has to die … he was a much better storyteller than Ivan.
- Although I got a little drifty while reading, I did stick with Zosima most of the way, and I have to say that I like his approach to religion and life. He seems like a good chap, and if he is the pinnacle of what Dostoevsky is trying to promote in this book, perhaps he would have been better off just telling Zosima’s story.
- The book ends in a cliffhanger of sorts … alluding to something strange that happens around the same time that Zosima dies. Though knowing Dostoevsky (and, at this point, I feel like I do), I suspect it will be a few hundred pages and multiple philosophical discussions until we find out what it is.
- I’m 41% done the book. No turning back now!
Once again, this post finds me out of town. (Coincidence that each Brothers K post and my traveling coincide? I think not! You need a vacation after reading Dostoevsky!) So, I’ll be around when I get back to check in with the others who are suffering along with me. (Though Michele got out of this whole read-a-long wittily and there isn’t a page that goes by that I don’t envy her.)