You can find today’s 16,430 word novelette here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/199.html
This noirish story feels complete even though it is open ended with life continuing in spite of tragedies and upheavals to a certain family. It is interesting that Chekhov’s kicks off this story with the tale of Ukleevo, the village known for “the deacon ate all the caviare at the funeral.” This local legend only comes up once more in chapter 5 (out of 9) and it is to identify the town. I wonder if the introduction of the town is made that way because even after all the scandalous chaos that happens to the Tybukin family, the town will still be known for the caviar eating deacon because in the grand scheme of things, the wealthy thieving merchants, although they directly impact the villagers, don’t really matter. (“…what happened in Tsybukin’s house and yard three years ago is almost forgotten…”)
This story has a great many characters and details. The return and marriage of the prodigal son, Anisim, is the catalyst all that happens. So much is made of Anisim by his father and stepmother, though he seems uninterested everything except his friend, Samorodov. I couldn’t help but think that Anisim is a closeted homosexual. Both with his meticulous, elegant style (Anisim arrived… rigged out in new clothes from top to toe. He had dazzling india-rubber goloshes, and instead of a cravat wore a red cord with little balls on it, and over his shoulder he had hung an overcoat, also new, without putting his arms into the sleeves…) as well his complete indifference to his feeble and frightened peasant bride, Lipa. I wonder if Chekhov involved Aninisim in the counterfeiting scheme to show that he is living a duplicate lifestyle.
It seems that the pinnacle of old Tsybukin’s life comes at the moment when an old laborer says “Yes,indeed, your daughters-in-law, Grigory Petrovitch, are a blessing from God… Not women, but treasures!” From that moment on, as if those words were a hidden curse, things go from bad to worse for the merchant. While in the end he is a victim, he sort of had it coming after years of ripping off the villagers. The true victim is Lipa who never adjusted to the upper class lifestyle and never wanted to marry Anisim. Her lines to her baby says so much: “You will grow ever so big, ever so big. You will be a peasant, we’ll go out to work together.” It is as if she knew danger would happen in the house if they were to stay. Unfortunately she did. The other daughter-in-law, Aksinya, comes off as a villain who gains power and wealth through infanticide. It’s not the first time Chekhov has killed a baby (Sleepy), but I don’t think I’ve seen such unrepentant behavior from one of his characters either. She is a sociopathic capitalist witch who will stop at nothing to accumulate more and more.
As I said in the beginning, I like this story because it felt complete even with a total change in the lives almost all the characters, and that their lives continue.