This 2293 word classic can be found here: http://www.eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/045.htm
Stories like this is why I read Chekhov. Misery is a sincere, gut-wrenching examination of humanity, our desperate need to communicate, and kindness. When I saw this title was coming up, I remembered the story was significant, although I couldn’t recall the details. Reading the first few lines, the setting seemed familiar, and I felt a familiar chill. When the officer enters the cab and berates Iona Potapov, I knew he was suffering from a tragedy. When Iona says that his son is dead, goosebumps rose on my arm and stayed throughout the rest of the reading.The elements in Misery are the same in good noir and probably why I prefer it over most literature. People who are at the bottom of society in the worst situations, and still strive forward. The pain Iona feels is so real and heartbreaking as he deals with elements of a snowy night and unsympathetic passengers (in the case of the 3 men paying a 20 kopeck fair, just plain nasty.) Yet, in the end when Iona leaves a room full a stinking men (and still nobody to talk to!) and goes to the stable, he finds a pair of sympathetic ears. After all the abuse and hardship that Iona has suffered in the reading, that tiny bit of kindness given by a horse is like a sliver of light through a cracked door, nearly blinding in the bleak darkness around it. Absolutely perfect.
In just over 2000 words Chekhov captures the plight of human suffering in an “insignificant shell” of a cabman named Iona Potapov. Like Travis, I had forgotten the narrative but not the emotion. Each paragraph reignited a previously lost sentiment to the point of feeling guilty at having forgotten Iona’s story as if I too were complicit in his misery. I kept reading hoping for a ounce of empathy or a shred of humanity but knowing that Iona would have to find solace in the abuse. “He hears abuse addressed to him, he sees people, and the feeling of loneliness begins little by little to be less heavy on his heart.” The depth of his loneliness knows no bounds as he tries in vain to talk about the recent death of his son to anyone who will listen. “To talk about him with someone is possible, but to think of him and picture him is insufferable anguish.” Unfortunately, his status in society doesn’t warrant an audience despite how much he tries to connect. The absurdity of this should make any reader pause and consider their own daily interactions. Ultimately, in the absence of humanity, it is his horse that Iona turns to for comfort. The ending is still tragic but in light of what came before, it is somehow more tolerable and almost infinitely preferable.