Here are some thoughts I typed out about Gogol and did not edit or revise.
Before I get into the stories, I have to admit that I haven’t read Dead Souls. I like to write short stories, so it goes that I also like to read short stories. This doesn’t mean that I don’t read novels, honest (Beckett’s Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable are novels I often pick up to read random passages whenever I have a brain problem); instead, I mean that I’m constantly attracted to short stories, collections, and complete works over novels because it’s just what I’ve done so far. I could write more on this, I guess, but that’s not what this post is about.
Gogol’s collected tales, published as a Vintage Classic and translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, is a wonderful book. I’ve been reading it slowly, very slowly, over one year. I just finished it this past month. Well, I can’t really explain why it took me so long to read. I could try, I guess, and say that one story of his was enough for several months. I could also say that I am lazy, and that life happened, and that other things happened. Whatever. It is a book I wish that I had read all at once, but also I have enjoyed suddenly remembering it and putting off everything else to pick it up again. Does this make sense? I don’t know.
I usually have trouble talking about the language and sentences in translated works. I don’t know translation well enough to understand what goes on between the original and translated version to critique it, nor is my Russian up to quality (read: no Russian whatsoever). So, I’ll move away from that and leave it to the experts, as much as I would like to focus on his sentences.
So, what do I like a lot about Gogol? What is the point of this post? I like that he can make me feel terror. Put aside his great sense of humor, his imaginative ways, his self-aware narrative style, and let us focus on his ability to terrify me. I have talked with several people about this already, but I’d like to share it here. In what little contemporary fiction I’ve read, I struggle to think of work that really terrified me, that made me get up from my chair and turn on the lights late at night all throughout the apartment, that made me feel frightened, not in a realistic way, but in a supernatural way. Does this make sense? I think that some of Evenson’s work does it and I think that “The Pederson Kid” by William Gass did it. Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas did it.