And away we go, breaking here at the end of chapter 4, which is around page 75 of the more than 1,000 pages in the book.
Here’s the thing. As noted previously, we have read War and Peace and Infinite Jest as part of this impossible reading series. This book is by far the most readable of the three.
The first thing is that it follows a relatively straightforward plot structure, and is carried by a seen-it-all narrator who is a character in his own right. You know the type–even if he is often missing in today’s literature. In my life, when I talked like this narrator does, I was accused (accurately) of being a smart ass.
There, after harsh and prolonged ordeals, he was deemed worthy of enduring torture and of meeting a martyr’s death.
…testifying to the unhappy lot of our village women, an illness caused by debilitating work undertaken too soon after difficult, complicated, and medically unsupervised labour, and further aggravated by hopeless misery, beatings, and so on, which apparently some female constitutions lacked the strength to endure.
You picture the guy, with a long beard and a hunch, cracking wise on his way around the village. It’s hard to describe, but you’re glad to be along for the ride with him. (Note: I guess it could be a her).
In the words of Donald Rumsfeld, the Karamazov family is a “target-rich environment” for a smart ass. Take any dysfunctional family you want, starting with the Windsors and the Spencers, cross over to the Trumps or the Kardashians or the Jenners or any other reality show clan, and add a multiplier effect of 10 or 20 and you might be halfway there.
From its patriarch down, this family is a collection of loons.
So, obviously, we know what the story is about. But, the little peeks it gives into Russian society and its inherent contradictions are equally interesting. This particular section ends with a very long and probably cuttable story of supplicants meeting a starets, which is essentially a religious leader with cult-like followers who is considered to have healing powers, though our narrator wryly notes this:
The question of whether such healing was really a cure or merely a natural remission in the course of the illness did not arise for Alyosha, for he already believed firmly in the spiritual powers of his teacher, whose glory he felt as his own.
Honestly, on its own, that’s a pretty funny line. And even though any MFA-dork worth his salt would have cut the starets scene, it is important to remember that the story was written as a serial. Just like any popular entertainment, it was necessary to, you know, entertain people so they’d keep coming back. (David Foster Wallace was under no similar mandate, so far as we could tell). The starets scene and its gentle ridicule let those original readers laugh at the very world they lived in.
So, that’s the first report. See you in a hundred pages or so.