Anton Chekhov, in his collection, Selected Stories, writes in a style that is direct and powerful. Many of his stories are short. The majority are in the four to six page range, with only three stories in the collection lasting longer than ten pages. Because he writes so short, Chekhov wastes no time in orienting his readers. In the story, “The Kiss,” there is a great example of his straight-to-the-point openings: “On the twentieth of May, at eight o’clock in the evening, all six batteries of the N—- Reserve Artillery Brigade halted for the night on their way to camp in the village of Mestechki.” In one sentence, we have date, time, place, location, and a sense of the situation. The reader is now ready to move right into the story and find out what happens next.
In these stories, there is not room for much to happen. However, what does happen is powerful. In the story, “Surgery,” the only plot is that a man comes to get a sore tooth pulled. Yet, in just six pages, the reader can feel the extreme pain the man is in with a just a few pointed sentences:
“’The other day I sat down to drink tea with my old woman and—dear Lord!—not a drop, nothing could I swallow. . . And it’s not just the tooth itself, but this whole side—it aches and aches! It goes right into my ear, if you will excuse me, as if a tack or some other such object was in there.’”
With this short passage, the reader is feeling something. He is imagining or remembering the pain of a toothache and feeling the urgency that comes with such a pain. The reader knows the stakes and is anxious to get somewhere in the story. The stakes quickly get higher. The tooth must be pulled and the main doctor is gone, leaving an assistant behind to do the pulling. By the time the assistant takes out the forceps to yank the tooth, the reader is squirming. The reader is so invested in the characters and the situation, that he can hardly stand it when the assistant begins to pull on the tooth. The assistant might as well be pulling the reader’s tooth. It feels so real that by the time the tooth breaks, leaving two sharp fragments in the man’s mouth, the reader wants to scream or cry.
This is just one example, but each story in the collection is of this magnitude. Chekhov writes in a way that provokes strong emotions and causes the reader to keep thinking of the story long after he has put the book down. He has truly mastered the art of the short story.
My rating: 4 out of 5 = really liked it
This collection of stories is available here: