Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
This book should have been great. You've got a senseless murder, a potential psychodrama, family, a hooker with a heart of gold, a drunken mentor, blackmail, and a pedophile. Sadly, Crime and Punishment reminds me of a steak dinner that ends with a fruit parfait for dessert. Now the dinner is great, and it's done really well, but nobody likes fruit parfait for dessert. I don't care what you say, fruit is a good snack and it's healthful, it's not a dessert. C&P starts with a steak dinner, Rodian Romanovich contemplates a murder because he is struggling through school and has no cash. He is further disturbed by the his sister's impending marriage to a rich clown who wants to dominate her because she grew up poor. Rodian is convinced that Avdotya Romanovna, his sister, is sacrificing her life to save her mother and himself from a life of poverty. Rodian decides the best way to solve this problem is to kill an old, hated, pawnbroker and steal her money. Rodian sees Alyona Ivanovna as a parasite who destroys her clients. Like a bug who needs to be stamped out.
Rodian thinks about the crime for a short time. He impulsively heads to the pawnbroker's apartment and axes her in the head in a heart-stopping scene. While he's whacking the old lady to bits her sister, Lizaveta, walks in and meets Mr. Ax as well. Rodian abandons his feeble plan, grabs a few things and takes off.
The rest of the book is a relentless psychological battle within Rodian. He is a smart guy and the guilt he feels is inescapable. He wonders how other criminals live with themselves. Suspicion begins to fall on Rodian. The authorities suspect him, but can't pin anything on him even though he acts extra crazy whenever he feels suspicion. The real intrigue of the novel deals with Rodian's friends and family. What will he tell them? Will their love drive him totally insane with guilt? What will happen to Avdotya and her marriage? What about Rodian and his prostitute girlfriend/sounding board for his craziness Sophia? We really get down to, who will Rodian tell and what will he reveal? This all takes a very long time. Most of this time is filled with Rodian being a jerk to everyone.
I know that he's going through some major psychological drama. He's got some things on his mind. But he is a certified a-hole to everyone who tries to help him. To make Rodian less sympathetic all his plans are really crappy. His meetings with police all turn embarrassingly bad. I'm not sure if Dostoevsky intended Rodian to be a sympathetic character. He does ax two old ladies in the head. Perhaps as readers we can relate to Rodian with our (hopefully) less egregious sins. I won't spoil the end of the book for those who haven't read C&P.
Rating 7/10: I really thought this was going to be a totally bad ass read. In the afterglow of Rodian's murders I was breathlessly on the edge of my seat. Things slow down drastically from there, however. Rodian's guilt is kind of half-assed and the book drags to a anti-climactic conclusion. I can see how a philosopher would read this book as a study of rationalizing one's behavior, but Rodian just seems like a jerk to me, not truly investigating his actions.