Hard-bitten Tenderness


Stories, by Anton Chekhov

I have some 30-40 pieces of short fiction under my belt, most of them published. That this is so may be testimony more to the desperation of litmags and zines than to my prowess in writing such stories. But I promise – after slogging through edits on three novels I have in draft mode – to return to the shorter version of fiction. This isn’t to make excuses. To the contrary, I can feel the impulse building with every chapter page I turn in these wannabe novels. But this time, I’ll have the benefit of having read extensively of some of the masters of the short story. Beginning with Anton Chekhov.
This particular collection of his work has been translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, whom I trust to the ends of literary earth. In their hands Chekhov emerges as a writer with an unerring insight into the human psyche. Without listing storied examples ad nauseum, his tales lament the current version of the human condition, its foibles, its toying with the modern world’s newness and challenges. He writes in hard-bitten style, but the tenderness lying in wait beneath his frustrations is undeniable. He knows the limitations the form imposes, and he makes the most of them. Were he to have lived in the past fifty years, he would challenge Vonnegut and Roth and their tongue-in-cheek roastings of contemporary society. As it is, he fails to escape Russian melancholia. Still, there is much to be amused with as well as to be challenged by in his stories. In essence, were it not for writers like Chekhov, literature would be of little use.

My rating: 19 of 20 stars

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