Why Franz Kafka is (Still) No Friend of Mine

Growing up, I had always been an avid reader, eagerly devouring one good book after the next.  Unfortunately, as the amount of novels and plays I was assigned to read for school increased, my pleasure-reading decreased. To remedy this, I made it a goal of mine to resume reading for fun during my semester abroad in London and I’ve been pretty successful.  In the past few months, I’ve read numerous novels, plays, and collections of short stories, most of which I’ve found extremely enjoyable.

All except what I happen to be reading right now: a collection of short stories by Franz Kafka.

I became familiar with the fiction of Mr. Kafka the way that, I assume, most of us have.  At some point in high school, I was required to read his most famous short story, “The Metamorphosis,” that odd little existentialist ditty about a man who wakes up to find that he’s been transformed into a giant cockroach, not unlike the ones seen in a NYC subway.  When I first read it, I was more than a bit unsure about what made this a good story, but at the indulgence of my English teacher, I wrote a respectful essay about it and moved the heck on.

A couple of weeks ago, I recognized that same copy of “The Metamorphosis” on my bookshelf and decided to pick it up.  I hadn’t realized that there were other pieces of fiction by Kafka also printed in the book, so I decided to read some of them and see if my view of this gentleman’s writing ability could be at all swayed.

After reading four of his other stories, the answer to that is a resounding, “Nope.”

What was that guy’s deal?  I don’t deny that Kafka has an amazing way with words and that he artfully paints the picture of the story he’s conveying to his readers.  Nor do I deny that his ability to get so deep into his characters’ psyches is awe-inspiring.  It’s just: What in the world is he talking about?  What is he trying to tell us?  What is the purpose of all of these complex and interesting characters who have these incoherent story lines?

It’s like I need a decoder ring to figure out what he might be trying to say, maybe, kinda, if you look at it with your eyes squinted while tilting your head to the left.  I need definitive answers and Franz Kafka hasn’t given me a single one, so we are not and will never be friends.

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