Find today’s 5141 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/120.html
This may be one of Chekhov’s darkest stories. It drips with gloomy teenage male angst and ends with a bang. Volodya, “a plain, shy, sickly-looking lad of seventeen,” is uncomfortable in this world. He lives with his vain and superficial mother. The family’s fortune has been squandered by her and they are pathetic hangers-on in society. Chekhov does a great job, showing the boy’s acute awareness of his surroundings and status, his sensitive interpretations of events, and high-strung, combustible feelings. Chekhov also sets up a timetable with an impending mathematical examination that will happen the next day. Volodya will be expelled unless he passes. This stress is compounded with an unwanted visit to a condescending family and a married woman he secretly desires. In some ways, the beginning reminded me of French novels like Sentimental Education and The Red and The Black with young men infatuated with older, married women. But this Russia, and Chekhov is behind the quill. To start, the mother is not really invested in her son’s future as she is more concerned with playing cards and keeping appearances. If she would not have dragged him to the Shumihins’ country villa and instead had him focus on his exam, perhaps everything would have been different. This story is also the second or third time that Chekhov has had sex in a story. He often writes in opaque language so that intercourse implied, but never stated. While still vague, this time there is no denying what happens. “Then it seemed to Volodya that the room, Nyuta, the sunrise and himself — all melted together in one sensation of acute, extraordinary, incredible bliss, for which one might give up one’s whole life and face eternal torments….” Chekhov follows up with the next sentence a complete reversal of emotion that the two lovers, wrapped with desire, felt only half a minute earlier. “Volodya saw only a fat, plain face, distorted by an expression of repulsion, and he himself suddenly felt a loathing for what had happened.” Chekhov has been doing this more often — strong emotional feelings one direction followed by a pendulum swing in the other direction. The ending of the story, once Volodya enters Mihalitch’s room, is drawn out painfully and masterfully. Chekhov even toys with the reader’s emotions with the misfire. (I suspected he might leap out a window in frustration.) The final three sentences remind me of one of my favorite short stories, Bullet in the Brain. It is interesting that Tobias Wolff edited a collection of Chekhov short stories. I wonder if Volodya influenced his tale.