In these posts I will briefly recommend a short story or novel that I have found inspirational and meaningful as a writer and reader. Some will be newly discovered works and some will be my all time favorites.
Short Story – Midnight in Dostoevsky by Don DeLillo
I was introduced to DeLillo through his 1980s novels, The Names and White Noise. Both read with a verve that reflects DeLillo’s unique style and nudged my worldview in new directions, as all great writers do. For newcomers to DeLillo, he rarely uses dialogue tags and the few times he does use them, you get the distinct impression it was his editor who insisted on their insertion so the casual reader could follow more clearly. DeLillo also wants his readers to think. He doesn’t guide them to conclusions but rather sets up scenes that play out and leaves it to his readers to determine what’s going on.
Here, “Midnight in Dostoevsky” serves as an excellent introduction to DeLillo for new readers as they are taken for a distinctly DeLillo-esque journey into the lives of two college students who share a logic class and a love for speculation regarding a mysterious old man they see strolling around the campus town. On display is DeLillo’s talent at depicting the dueling paradigms of imagination and reality as the two boys conjure their own stories for the mysterious man. They debate with enthusiasm and marshal arguments for their views with the seriousness of Presidential candidates approaching a first debate.
“This was the day we saw the man in the hooded coat. We argued about the coat—loden coat, anorak, parka. It was our routine; we were ever ready to find a matter to contest. This was why the man had been born, to end up in this town wearing that coat.”
The figure of the boy’s shared logic teacher, Ilgauskas looms in the background and his logic class contrasts with the boy’s freewheeling imagination about the man in the coat.
“Some of us could barely complete a thought without touch pads or scroll buttons, but we understood that high-speed data systems did not belong here. They were an assault on the environment, which was defined by length, width, and depth, with time drawn out, computed in heartbeats. We sat and listened or sat and waited.”
It is this figure that the narrator discovers the professors is enamored with the classic Russian writer. “Dostoevsky, day and night,” he says. I’ll leave you to discover how these elements blend together in a typical DeLillo fashion. This has become one of my favorite short stories.