Crime and Punishment

No, I’m not joining the mobs of voices decrying or cheering the Casey Anthony verdict. I’m talking about the original “Crime and Punishment,” the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, published in Russia in 1866.

I finally read it.

Somehow nobody forced me to read this classic, all the way through high school and six years of college, and I only just now managed to bull my way through it, thanks to Kindle. Yeah, something about having all those daunting pages just show up a page at a time in pixilworld made it seem less daunting. Not a lot less daunting, mind you. Just enough.

So I finally read it. From start to finish, it took about a month. Admittedly I took a two-week break in the middle because I just couldn’t stand to pick it up again, it was making me so crazy. But last night I finished it. And as an initial reaction, I have to say … huh. Classic psychological drama. Right.

I understand what this book is supposed to be about. Alienation. The inner life of the criminal mind. The psychology of guilt. I understand that. I just don’t see it in the book.

Raskalnikov (he of the many names, like every other character), the protagonist, is unlikeable from the start, at least to me. He comes across as one of those whiny brats who thinks he’s so much better than everyone else that anything he does must be okay. Period. He accepts the kindness of others with ill will, grumpiness and a cavalier attitude that just made me want to throttle him. So he’s poor. Got it. But every time someone gives money to him, often at difficulty to themselves, he just throws it away. Sometimes almost literally.

As for his psychological wrestling with his crime, I saw none of that. I read a lot of thrashing about not wanting to get caught, but he almost never thought about the double murder itself. He felt no guilt, only fear of punishment. He felt no remorse, only that continuing intellectual whining as he see-sawed between playing games with the police and his friends and collapsing onto the sofa in his garret. His “oh, poor me” fainting routine was overdone the first time. We won’t even get into the later ones.

And then there’s Sonia. Saintly Sonia. So pure. So beautiful. So innocent. So religious. So…. a prostitute. Sorry, I just can’t go there. The hooker with the heart of gold has been done to death. Granted, this might be one of the earlier ones, but I found myself wanting to slap her, too. According to the analyses I read earlier, trying to figure out what I was “supposed” to get out of this book, Sonia’s pure love saves Raskalnikov. Sorry. I didn’t get that.

The only thing that happened with Raskal and Sonia was that he was creepy at first, and then creepier, and then creepiest. And the fact that she didn’t run away screaming says, to me, more about the deadness of her heart than about love. She has given up.

He finally confesses, basically, out of spite because nobody could figure out that he was the murderer. I could almost see him in my mind, flouncing in a tragically emo fashion into the police station, draping himself over a chair and announcing, “Oh, fine. You’re all too stupid to figure it out. I’m the murderer. This is soooo boring. I think I’ll faint, or have a sudden fever.”

All that said, I’m glad I finally read the book. I feel much more educated now. And it did have a couple of nifty creepy images that’ll stick with me. Crazy Raskal forcing Crazy Sonia to read aloud the story of Lazarus from the Bible by the light of a single flickering candle in her tiny room. Not sure what it was supposed to mean, but it was creepy as all get out. And then there’s the character whose names starts with an S, who may or may not be a crazy deviant pervert who talks with his dead wife and gives away money like it was flowing from his fingers, who walks out to a bridge overlooking part of the city, muses on the beauty of it, and shoots himself in the head.

Ooookay.

So. Crazy crime and punishment with crazy inexplicable people doing nutty things and getting away with it didn’t start with O.J. and Casey Anthony. That’s for sure.

And, oh yeah, I don’t expect to be re-reading “Crime and Punishment” any time soon. Did  I read the wrong Dostoevsky? Let me know!

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