After the first reading even the surname of this famous author appears more exciting than this story. The narrative is driven by a rather uninteresting nocturnal pondering of the protagonist, Richard, hardly a forceful stream of consciousness. He is lying awake thinking about all the Classics he should have read, and his intimacy with Russian Ana. I cannot but wonder what in the world was this about, ask myself the old elementary school question, which I have been taught to forget: what did the artist want to say with this work?
However, like all good story craftsmen, Wolff offers more for a deeper reading. One thing that kept me alert was the missing reason of his insomnia. It seemed to me that if Richard just told himself this story he’d fall asleep. Yet, he didn’t, and neither did I. It was the very reason for his being awake that intrigued me the most. Everything became significant in relation to this reason.
Sleepless Richard is desperately trying to read an old adventure, Homer’s the Odyssey. Only for him it is not exactly a modern page turner. It offers a great deal of action, but the old poesis seems to hamper the flow, unlike the book and the movie The Exorcist, which he recalls reading. The other books on his wanna-read list are by the Russian masters, which Ana has obviously read. Does the insomnia depend on his insecurity in Ana’s company? This is an interesting twist, on my view. Richard, the American, living in his own country, feels inferior to his displaced, immigrant love interest with a strong accent. The story reads like an inverted cliché of immigrant literature. I further like the emphasis on the Canonical works, which are like a burden on this man.
In short, this quite unassuming story yields to me a rather interesting interpretation, placing itself among those works worth going back to.