But cookie cutter poor folk they are not. They are well-spoken and complex. Nonetheless, this book has been a snoozefest. And you know how I feel about Dostoyevsky. (If you don’t know, refer to a series of posts celebrating every single moment of Crime and Punishment. Beware: it’s literary fangirling to the extreme.)
So here’s Poor Folk. Pen pals/distant cousins Makar Dievushkin and Barbara Dobroselova are involved an awkwardly one-sided May-December relationship. December’s Dievushkin constantly sends his love to May’s Dobroselova–but not like that, he emphasizes. He loves her like a daughter. A sexy, sexy daughter. Have some bon bons! (This is paraphrased, clearly–I don’t possess anything like the powers of lyrical and subtle prose of my beloved Dostoyevsky. Speaking of which, Dostoyevsky and I are involved in the ultimate May-December unrequited romance. In this case, it’s May that loves, and December died 100 years before May was born.)
I have to be honest. I’m not really in a good position to give this book the same kind of analysis I’ve given many others because I’ve been in skim mode since about 50% in. The writing is beautiful, so I’ve just been kind of soaking it in without processing much of the message. It strikes me as kind of a shame because it seems like this book meant so much when it was published. It was well-received, and it was considered a much-needed, sensitive, humanistic look at poverty. The author of the blog “Read, Write, Now” (who does a much better job of explaining this book that I do here, including why it’s second-tier Dostoyevsky) says, “Dostoevsky gives “Poor Folk” the human dignity to participate in the process of their own damnation.” I see that, but only after it was pointed out to me. I just can’t find much value on my own. Perhaps I’m just not in the right state of mind.
Or maybe it’s because I find both the characters annoying as all get out, and the plot (with the exception of the mini-autobiography recounting Dobroselova’s teenage years) is…well, there isn’t really one. There’s just the same message back and forth. I love you. I’m so poor. But it’s not so bad. But, man, I’m poor. I would do anything for you. I would give my last penny for you. In fact, here’s my last penny. Don’t feel guilty about that, though. Did I mention I’m really poor? But don’t worry, it’s not so bad. Actually, it’s terrible.
It’s my opinion that both of these people are codependent and manipulative. And I can only read the same codependent and manipulative message over and over before I zone out. There has to be more movement, more character development than this for me to stay engaged.
I hear echoes of the beauty of Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground in Poor Folk. There is the psychological element, and clearly there is the frank, empathetic portrayal of suffering I find so compelling underneath the sentences I’m reading. But it’s buried too deep under endless, lovely-but-repetitive words. The rawness of later works goes missing in this first one.
I’m sorry, Dostoyevsky. I’m sorry, my love. But I don’t think I can finish this one. But don’t feel bad. Well, feel kind of bad. And have some bon bons.