A Critic's Meta-Review: 4/5

The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol (REVIEW)

Apparently, this is the greatest short story ever written in the history of Russian literature. I read it while wolfing down a slice of pumpernickel bread layered with hummus and festooned with grape tomatoes, shooing away a Bombay kitten (or is it Mumbai now…hmm?), and itching my lower abdomen. If I had been aware that this was such a highly regarded piece of writing, I may have gone with sourdough.

I cannot say that I am necessarily surprised by its status, though. I read it fairly quickly, and I am not known for being a particularly efficient reader. In fact, I am usually such a slow reader that, upon seeing that this story was more than twenty pages long, I began to rearrange the order of my schedule for today in order to fit in the time to sit and read it.

But I knew it was Gogol, and I knew that I was going to like it. So I did not mind. I knew that, with his slippery, sardonic writing style, my wits were sure to be tickled sufficiently. And tickled they were - tickled silly, as a matter of fact.

Well, then – what did I think of the story? At the risk of sounding cliché, I thought it was…Kafkaesque. That was my first reaction, at least. Upon some sleuthing, however, I discovered that Franz Kafka was not born until 1883 – at which point, Nikolai Gogol had already been dead for over a score and a half, and this story had already been in print for over two score.

Perhaps it would be more fit to say that the works of Kafka, such as “The Metamorphosis” and “The Judgment” were Gogolesque. There is the protagonist, a lowly bureaucrat who longs to be noticed by his more stately superiors, only to end up dead and in some sort of bizarro limbo world where he must steal coats from the living. All because of red tape.

Red tape, of course, being the cause of nearly every problem that plagues modern society.

Why do we still have troops in Afghanistan?

Red tape.

Why have we failed to pass any sort of legislation that would meaningfully address the existential threat that is climate change?

Red tape.

Why is it illegal to let chickens cross the road in Quitman, Georgia?

Red – actually, I am not too sure about that one. It seems like the set up to a really bad joke, but I am sure there is a legitimate reason for it.        

Chickens be crazy.

Share this post