Vice and Virtue
by James Sedgwick

"The burden of positivity is taxing—and unfortunately it is such a necessary tenant to charisma, and so crucial to the success of casual relationships…"

Sedgwick’s cerebral novel is both the story of Yakob Yaplomsky, the barfly known for his skills in discourse, and that of the narrator, Leonid, the thoughtful young man who enters a seedy bar named Shtamky’s and becomes enmeshed in the lives of its patrons. Both men find themselves enamored of the women who come and go throughout the neighboring shops and frequent discussions at the bar. Leonid is introduced to Yakob (“not an ordinary man”) by Evgeny, the aloof bartender who takes care of Yakob with more concern than the bar. Leonid immediately likes Yakob, as they both consider themselves thinking men, and Leonid spends a lot of time listening to Yakob and becoming involved in the lives of the other speakers, as well as developing an intense infatuation with Alina, a young woman working in a sweets shop. For a man like Leonid, the thrill of this new obsession leaves him rather anxious.

This novel is a nod to the heady Russian literature of Dostoyevsky and the inner musings of a narrator who is reminiscent of Michel in Andre Gide’s The Immoralist. The writing lends itself to interesting lines like, “I wish to be someone new every day—I wish to break the monotony of routine.” At times it is difficult to identify who is speaking, who is being spoken to, and who is present in the scene. However, the reader can find a lot of pleasure from simply identifying some of the quotable lines and musing on them. In addition, there is an impactful event near the story’s end that will greatly disrupt the lives of all the characters and leave the readers thinking.

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