Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

In re: Dostoyevsky

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Having greatly enjoyed Crime and Punishment, my wife and I are immersed in The Brothers Karamazov.  I just finished a segment in which Alyosha tries to give two hundred rubles to the man his brother Dmitri insulted and beat up.  At first it seems the man will accept the money, which he needs more than desperately, but in a sudden access of pride, he throws the money on the ground and stomps angrily away.

I was moved to think that the moral is: There are good deeds that cannot be performed.  It is an odd thought, is it not?  We are brought up to think that good deeds are always possible and it is our responsibility to perform them when the opportunity presents itself.  But human nature is such that a determination not to be the recipient of charity, say, can make impossible the fulfillment of a charitable person’s desire to give it.  In other words, charity is not a one-way street.  Both the donor and the recipient must agree to it.

As I think about it, I recall many fictional situations in literature in which charity is refused on the grounds that it requires too much of a sacrifice of personal image, a sacrifice of “honor” (which, as we also know from literary example, covereth a multitude of sins).  Still, the fact remains.  There are good deeds that cannot be performed.

Ali Smith, There But For The (2011)

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Just finished reading Ali Smith’s 2011 novel, There But For The.  I enjoyed it.  By the time I got to the last fifteen pages, I found it hard to put down.

This is truly a non-conventional narrative.   It is organized into a prefatory vignette and four major sections named There, But, For, and The.   There is a cast of characters, all guests at a dinner party.  The central character of each section is one of those guests, but the reader doesn’t know how the pieces are going to fit together.

Each section illuminates a particular character and all of them illuminate the “fifth business” character–the catalyst and anchor point of the story–a man who, midway through the party excuses himself (presumably to answer the call of nature), goes upstairs, and locks himself into the spare bedroom.

I was going to say that the book is satirical, but really it is more a comedy of manners–at least to the extent that the characters are treated kindly and their foibles presented with a smile rather than a frown or a smirk.  But the explorations of characters and relationships are serious, thoughtful, and insightful.

At the end of the book, as I was mentally fitting all the pieces into place, I looked back and felt satisfied.  My wife, on the other hand, found the structure annoying and didn’t finish the book.  Worth a look, anyway.