Yesterday, at 4 p.m., I shoveled eight inches of snow off our (too long) driveway and our (too long) sidewalks, and this morning I was back at it again, only this time I was peeling back three inches of sleet crust and breaking the carapace on the car. As I result, I am hot and cold and tired and sweaty, and not likely to be an elegant correspondent. Nonetheless, I will attempt to speak cogently, for last night I was imagining an essay about the hidden power of aprons and/or that overlooked foodstuff: the old-fashioned savory dumpling. I wonder what it would be like to write an entire essay collection about housework?
In any case, I am not going to attempt it now. I've got grocery shopping to do, and essays to read, and a class to teach tonight. But before I rush off to take a shower, I want to recommend a very strange and disturbing short novel, Irene Nemirovsky's The Courilof Affair. It's told from the point of view of a Bolshevik terrorist who infiltrates the household of the tsar's minister of education, with the aim of assassinating him in some public way. Yet as he waits for the moment to act, he becomes involved in the minister's private life and, while remaining faithful to his mission, chronicles his growing awareness of ambiguity: the confusions of sympathy and distaste, the complications of choice. It's a chilling novel but also, somehow, a very Tolstoyan one.