Thursday, February 14, 2008

Book Review: Ward No. 6 and Other Stories

Ward No. 6 and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov

I was amazed by this wide ranging collection. These are psychological stories, with nothing held back. The mode in contemporary fiction, indeed fiction of the last thirty years, is to keep strong emotion hidden. The feeling has been that it is better to show, to express it with action, as opposed to with words. But the truth is that we feel these things, we say these things to ourselves, things that are more dramatic that anything we see in modern fiction.

"Kill me! Kill me!" the protagonist of "The Grasshopper" proclaims.

I often wonder if I have my characters over-think things, putting too much into words. I've been accused on more than one occasion of as much. But I do not write distant stores. My stories tend to take place within the minds of the characters, and it would be false to deny them from expressing what they feel.

What do we miss in today's fiction by not connecting deeply with the characters?

Some of the stories in this collection were so good that I could hardly put the book down. They were strong psychological stories, were sometimes nothing at all happened, or where some decision turned out fruitless. Other stories were long, meandering and devoid of meaning. I will never understand why anyone would the longest and most boring story at the end. There were stories that read like fables full of magic. They were philosophical stories, riddled with ponderances that left me wondering for some time afterward. Yet, as much as I was stirred by some of the stories, I was grateful to get to the end. I may not have been enjoying the collection near the end, but there are stories here that make "The Lady with the Dog" seem just mediocre.

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