As is common in a lot of Russian literature, there is not a whole lot of light or happiness in Life of a Useless Man. There is a lot of despair, suffering, personal and social upheaval and catastrophe, and tragic, violent death. It's a lovely example of tragic Russian literature, and what can I say, I love Russian lit!
Life of a Useless Man does unfold a little slowly, and lots of people walk into and out of Yevsey' s life, so it can be a a challenge to keep track of all that's going on. Still, though, I couldn't put this book down. There was something compelling about how Yevsey lived that kept me involved in the story. Things happened around Yevsey, and to Yevsey, but he was never active in choosing his fate. He was swept along and out of control of his own destiny. I read Yevsey as a metaphor for the average Russian citizen in the early days of the 20th century. The average Russian citizen was just trying to survive, but events that they couldn't control dictated their fates and the roles they ended up playing in the life of the State.
Other Russian writers deal in these themes, but Gorky approached it in a way that drew me in and resonated. I really enjoyed the social commentary and the despondent poetry of this writing. In the hands of great Russian writers, the dark beauty of misery is captured and expressed like in no other literature.