Lieutenant, you would do me an enormous favor if you stopped calling me sir.

Friday, April 20, 2018 

Russian Authors I Have Never Technically Lied About Yet Always Feel Uncomfortable Discussing: A Series Of Frenzied Internal Monologue

Dostoyevsky: “Is there a way to casually ensure that the conversation stays focused primarily on the Grand Inquisitor chapter of The Brothers Karamazov?”

“If you want to finally betray yourself and make sure that everyone starts calling you Norton’s Anthology, then by all means. Just sit this one out.”

“I could say something about Father Zosima’s body. Just to telegraph that I’m familiar with the broad outlines of the novel.”

“And invite yourself to further scrutiny and ruin? For something that would be, at absolute best, a bit of a reach?”

“We could talk about Christopher Plummer. He did something sort of recently, I think, so it’s topical, and he did the Last Station Agent.”

“That was Tolstoy, ass. And it was The Last Station you’re thinking of. The Station Agent was Peter Dinklage.”

“Oh, was it Tolstoy? I always assumed –”

“This is why you’re sitting this round out. They all had unhappy marriages and money troubles and loved Christian anarchism, and if you think you’re going to be able to tell them apart on the strength of those details, you’re living in a fantasy world, pal.”

“I–”

“And you didn’t get away with skimming Crime and Punishment. He knew. Everyone always knows. They’re just polite about it.”

Tolstoy: “Have you gotten around to reading Schopenhauer?”

“You know I haven’t.”

“Have you gotten around to seeing The Last Station?”

You know I haven’t.”

“Are you sure, are you quite sure, that he’s the one who wrote War and Peace, or is there even the slightest chance that someone else did it?”

“I’m sure, but not like, Final Jeopardy sure. I think War and Peace is the one the kids are always reading in the early Peanuts strips and Linus says something about how he just blips over all the characters’ names.”

“Have you even seen The Station Agent?”

“I have been unofficially meaning to get around to that since 2003.'“

“What about that thing that put Christopher Plummer back on everyone’s radar a few years ago? Beginners?”

“I know he’s in The Man Who Would Be King, which I have seen the first and final five minutes of, and nothing else.”

“He was in National Treasure.”

“Oh, was he?”

“He was Nic Cage’s grandfather.”

“Right, right.”

Turgenev: “Am I allowed to say something about Fathers and Sons?”

“I don’t know. How much further along are you in Diary of a Superfluous Man?”

“For some reason I thought it was like, a novella.”

“It is a novella!”

“It’s 168 pages! I thought it would be, like, a novella the way Shelley’s Mathilda is a novella.”

Mathilda is 144 pages! They are COMPARABLE! WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS THAT MATHILDA FELT READABLE IN A WAY SUPERFLUOUS MAN DOESN’T BECAUSE MATHILDA INCLUDES STAND-INS FOR HISTORICAL FIGURES YOU THINK OF AS CELEBRITIES AND THEREFORE READS LIKE GOSSIP, AND IF YOU CAN’T TRICK YOURSELF INTO FINDING NINETEENTH-CENTURY FICTION SALACIOUS OR TITILLATING, YOU LOSE INTEREST, WHICH IS WHY YOU’VE NEVER FINISHED MIDDLEMARCH BUT READ THE SINS OF THE CITIES OF THE PLAIN ON YOUR PHONE IN A SINGLE AFTERNOON, YOU ABSOLUTELY UNREMARKABLE PIECE OF SHIT.”

Chekov: “How much longer do you think you can convince people you’ve seen The Seagull based on the strength of that one throwaway Dotcom joke on 30 Rock about playing Trigorin at Wesleyan?”

“Let’s throw the dice for another night.”

Nabokov: “You’ve done the ‘I differ from Joseph Conradically’ bit with these people before. You’re going to have to say something else about Nabokov.”

“I don’t know anything else about Nabokov.”

“I know you don’t. I’m just relieved to hear you admit it.”

Bulgakov: “PASS.”

Gogol: “Was he not Diary of a Madman?”

“I feel like all of these guys have written a short story called Diary of a Madman.”

“That does feel right, actually.”

“About like, a government inspector who briefly meets a woman named Sophy and then has a conversation about God with a man named Ilyas in a tavern and then is driven mad by the sight of an overcoat from a long-forgotten farm of his youth.”

“And that, um, that says something about doubles.”

“What?”

“If you ever don’t know what people are talking about in a literary conversation, you should say something about doubles.”

“What if that makes other people start talking about psychoanalysis?”

“Doesn’t matter. You said the thing about doubles, so you get to sit out the next two rounds of conversations, because you’ve earned immunity. Mentioning literary doubles gets you immunity, even if you’re talking Russians.”

“What if they start talking about German naturalism?”

“Are you sure you’re not thinking about German nationalism?”

“Christ. I have no idea.”

A pause.

“Then you can leave.”

Lieutenant, you would do me an enormous favor if you stopped calling me sir.