As a genre I don’t particularly like short stories because there doesn’t seem to be enough to bite on, but Chekhov’s are an exception. He often chooses very simple, everyday situations that just happen to occur in the lives of the characters. Man meets woman for a day, for example. It is what he then reveals of the lives of these people in such a brief meeting that is so captivating. The stories are masterpieces of observation, taking us right to the heart of the characters portrayed. The stories are just an excuse, as it were, to investigate.
Perhaps the finest example is his The Lady with the Dog. It is a simple love story like so many but after reading it, it is not the story that I retained, but the intimate knowledge of the characters and their back story as to how they got onto the page together. Chekhov strips away all unnecessary clutter, letting our imagination fill in the gaps and uses that space to offer rich insights into their lives. They appear briefly on the stage and are gone, but their lives somehow live on.
Chekov’s endings can be unusually abrupt, as if the curtain lifted on their lives needs urgently to come down, now that we’ve been allowed a privileged peep at them. We’re not told how their lives continue, but it is difficult to imagine that they do not live on. This anthology is a superb introduction to the author.
The Essential Tales of Chekhov is translated by Constance Garnett and published by Granta Books. Available on Amazon