"Midnight in Dostoevsky" by Don DeLillo, in the November 30, 2009, New Yorker
Maybe it's me. I've been pretty task-driven lately. That means no real pleasure reading. This makes reading short stories a little difficult. The brevity is helpful, but without a purpose, without resolution, I'm hard-pressed to come away with anything from them.
This is the case with Don DeLillo's short story "Midnight in Dostoevsky" that appeared in the New Yorker. A sentence from the final paragraph sums it up: "I wondered what it was that had caused this thing to happen."
I really enjoyed DeLillo's White Noise, and I think that makes me more inclined to like his work. This was certainly one of the reasons I took the time to read this story. As good as the writing was, I came away disappointed.
The story follows a pair of eccentric college students in cold Midwestern town. They think they know everything, even when they know that they don't. The imagine the the life of a distracted logic professor and they make up the life of an old man they pass on the street. The central character talks to a female student who, it turns out, talks just like him and then disappears from the story. And in the end there is a bit of pointless violence that comes out of nowhere, serves no purpose and leaves us hanging.
Surely DeLillo could place any story he wants in the New Yorker. And I doubt if the editors are going to criticize much. Of course there is good writing here:
I knew where my father was--in Beijing, trying to wedge his securities firm into the Chinese century.
At the library, I devoured about a hundred pages a setting, small cramped type.
He shaves, we thought. He cuts himself and says shit. He wads up a sheet of toilet paper and holds it to his cut. Then he leans into the mirror, seeing himself clearly for the first time in years. Ilgauskas, he thinks.
I just was hoping for a little more from DeLillo in the New Yorker. But, then again, maybe it's me.