“This was how we spoke of the local people: they were souls, they were transient spirits, a face in the window of a passing car, runny with reflected light, or a long street with a shovel jutting from a snowbank, no one in sight.”
This week’s short story is “Midnight in Dostoevsky” by Don DeLillo and was featured in The New Yorker at the end of November 2009. The story deals with two college students in a small town who discover a man wearing a hooded coat, which surprisingly is used as a main point of discussion throughout the story. The two students speculate about the man, as they do each “local” of the college town. Is he from here? Who does he live with? Why doesn’t he wear gloves in this cold? These are all questions the students ask themselves. You can tell when reading that they assume him to be a poor immigrant of some sort who has come to live with family in America. Strange, since this story is set in the modern day. As far as why the boys have such inquiring minds, other than the fact that all college student have inquiring minds, we can place the “blame” on the only professor we encounter in the story….Ilgauskas, the teacher of the Logic classes who reads “Dostoevsky day and night.” He poses questions to them in class, and the boys, in turn, use them in their inquiries about the people and the town. While on winter break, our narrator, one of the boys, takes to reading Dostoevsky, which he gives a sort of magical quality due to the fact that while reading the book in the library, no one seems to bother it except him. This, then, leads him to believe the hooded man is Russian and that he is the father of their eccentric Logic professor. The story continues with the boys making up an entire story about the man, just as they had possibly done about every “stranger” in the town.
A very well written short story, we are somewhat left up to our own interpretation as to what the man does, who he is, and our own questions emerge. We are given what is possibly the only glimpse into the man’s mind almost at the end of the story when the author gives us a short dialogue that I interpret to be happening in the hooded man’s mind. This makes the story and the man even more mysterious. This short story, while well-written and a good mind challenging story, only receives a B from me. The main reason for this, is that with another page or so, the author could have added to the mystery, possibly with another internal dialogue of the hooded man, and possibly having the students speak to the man.