He had no choice.
Jesus meets Dostoyevsky. He takes one look at him, peers for a diagnostic instant into those tunnels-of-torment eyes, and performs an immediate exorcism. Brisk and bouncerly, no fuss, in the Jesus style: Party’s over, little devil. Out you go. A slight buzzing sound, and it’s done. And Dostoyevsky, with the infernal reveler ejected, is relieved that second of his hemorrhoids, his gambling habit, his seizures, his fevers, his depression, his hypochondria, his appalling futuristic intuitions and obsessions. He is freed from the cell of his own skull. And he writes no more books, ever.
The Sinner and the Saint, Kevin Birmingham’s inspired account of the genesis—philosophical and neurological—of Crime and Punishment, will leave you of two minds about Dostoyevsky, rather as the great Russian was of (at least) two minds about himself. On the one hand, you’ll be in awe of his writerly stamina, his dedication to the depths of experience, his artistic fidelity, his fragility/durability, his unprotected imagination, and so on. On the other, you’ll be wondering if a good chunk of Crime and Punishment—a baggy, sweaty book; a sprawl, a trial, as even its admirers will concede—might not be pure pathology.