When I was a freshman in high school I made a new friend that I loved hanging out with. He was unlike anyone I met previously. Any weekend spent at his house led to weeks of stories I could relive of mundane things made memorable. A walk to the gas station for burritos, for example, turned into an odyssey of exploring old train tracks, running from neighborhood dogs, jam sessions, and meeting girls. He was so fun to be around and I felt like an elevated version of myself around him.
He was from out of state, though, and eventually his family moved back to their home state. I found out later from him on a phone call that unbeknownst to me, after I went to sleep on those weekends sleepovers, my friend would sneak out with our other friends and party on a more “enhanced” level. It wounded me to hear this on the phone – that I had been left out. What’s worse than that for a high schooler? He just laughed at me, saying, “That’s not your scene, bro.” My immediate reaction was anger and embarrassment, but I quickly realized he was right. He was protecting me from things I wasn’t ready for. I kept coming back to that phone call when I read Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.
This beast of a novel follows a brief period of time in the life of Myshkin, recently returned to his native Russia after growing up abroad. He is an uncommonly sweet, open, humble, gentle young man suffering from epilepsy. His other-worldly, child-like nature leads nearly everyone in his new circle of Russian society to at one time or another believe he is an “idiot”. Myshkin doesn’t seem to follow any of the social norms of manners, recognize class, or respond to insults and offers the way a normal adult does. He is always ready to forgive others and to believe in them. Where does this patience and courage and foolishness come from? Is he better than the rest of society, or simply an idiot? What does society do to a good person?
This is my fourth Dostoevsky work to read, and easily my favorite. I’d put it up there with Notes from the Underground for literary daring and achievement, and several of the characters themselves are quite memorable. I haven’t mentioned my two favorites here (Aglaya and Kolya) to keep things fairly short, but to get over being done with the novel I had to do some Pinterest character art pinning.
This one stuck with me!