Tuesday, December 25, 2012

12/25/12: The Brothers Karamazov

I'm an uncommon breed of writer: one who is miserably unread. No, not that sort of unread; there are plenty of those writers (though I'm one of that kind too). I, simply, have not read a great many books, even those classics which are considered required reading for anyone who dare spin a tale. My ignorance has both pros (I am without the dogmas and conventions of my better-read compatriots) and cons (my writing is often rejected because I don't adhere to common dogmas and conventions), as well as some in-betweens (I get to think my ideas are original, until I read them in something printed fifty years ago).

This is why I was unmet by The Brothers Karamazov.

Dostoevsky. I knew the author purely in name, and only then amongst a gaggle of other Eastern European-sounding -stoys and -ovskies and -shevs, which seem to have embedded themselves in intelligentsia like Cyrillic insects. They'd bled into one, for me, to the point of facelessness. After today, however, this -ovsky has separated himself from the pack.

It started this morning, while I was waiting for my brother's family to arrive here for Christmas dinner. I took this time to read my current novel, David Lodge's Thinks, in which I came across the following line: "If there is no God, all is permitted, said one of the Karamazovs." I was unfamiliar with the quote, for the reasons stated, though I could gather that this "Karamazov" was a literary figure of some kind, well-known enough to be referenced only vaguely. Still, the passage stood out to me, for its fallacious logic if nothing else.

Some minutes later, I received a knock on my door: my brother's family had arrived.

I promptly forgot about Thinks and this mysterious Karamazov, thanks to a rather delicious turkey dinner. Soon after, however, when the gift exchange began, I remembered rather quick: my brother had bought for me The Brothers Karamazov, the name of which I instantly recognized. My jaw dropped rather comically.

After I'd checked the quote in Thinks, then confirmed that it did in fact originate from the book I'd just been gifted, I shared with my brother how, just minutes before his arrival, I'd encountered a passage from the very book he'd bought for me, and how it had stood out to me significantly enough for recognition. We laughed, and returned to the subject throughout the afternoon, speculating on the chances.

(Sidenote: As it turned out, my brother had chosen The Brothers Karamazov based on a string of unlikely coincidences, not unlike that which its purchase produced. First he'd seen the book featured in an old movie he'd happened to watch, and then, soon after, he saw the book promoted by three separate celebrities on three separate occasions. It had made enough of an impact on him that he felt, illogically, that he must buy that specific book for me as a Christmas gift.)

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