Misery by Anton Chekhov, 1886
The magic trick:
Bookending the story with images of the man and horse united in pain
Thank you Ann, of the amazing Short Stories All The Time website, for today’s Chekhov recommendation.
It’s a little like thanking someone for running over your dog, because this particular story suggestion will bring you to the verge of tears, but we appreciate the recommendation nonetheless.
I kid, I kid. Her website is phenomenal, with nearly eight years (1) of short story reviews and breakdowns.
So, Misery. It begins and ends with a man and his horse. And that’s a beautiful bookending technique. Both images are equally memorable. The opening finds the pair literally frozen in place, hunched over with the snow collecting on their backs. The closing scene in some ways is even sadder, as we see the man, having found no soul in the city willing to listen to his story of woe, unburdening his pain by talking to his horse.
It’s pathetic, right? Pure misery.
But I also found the conclusion oddly touching, even warm. There was something very sweet about the man taking solace in his horse. So, not a total dose of misery then. And that’s quite a trick on Chekhov’s part.
Iona Potapov, the sledge-driver, is all white like a ghost. He sits on the box without stirring, bent as double as the living body can be bent. If a regular snowdrift fell on him it seems as though even then he would not think it necessary to shake it off…. His little mare is white and motionless too. Her stillness, the angularity of her lines, and the stick-like straightness of her legs make her look like a halfpenny gingerbread horse. She is probably lost in thought. Anyone who has been torn away from the plough, from the familiar gray landscapes, and cast into this slough, full of monstrous lights, of unceasing uproar and hurrying people, is bound to think.
It is a long time since Iona and his nag have budged. They came out of the yard before dinnertime and not a single fare yet. But now the shades of evening are falling on the town. The pale light of the street lamps changes to a vivid color, and the bustle of the street grows noisier.
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