“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
Last night was a serendipitous discovery of a Chekhov short story while I was driving home. My knowledge of this Russian literary titan is of a good playwright. I have read the “Orchard” years ago and in fact decided to start with his collection of plays as I decided three weeks ago to feed my literary hunger with Russian works, promising myself to revisit Tolstoy, Doestoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Bulgakov and Turgenev.
When I heard the story of “The Lady with the Dog” written in 1899 and read by Jacke Wilson on the History of Literature podcast, I was floored with my soul invigorated. There are three insights that I got from this story of Anna and Dmitri Gurov whose illicit affair started in Yalta and continued in Moscow.
First, it resonated with my Filipino psyche of local cinema because of the richness of the dialogue, a fare in of most melodramas starring young sirens and heartthrobs. The love story here is unpredictable and in every turn, surprises keep unfolding in a fashion that is seducing and non-linear in progression.
Secondly, it sent a silver glint of potent light into the totem of fidelity in marriage. The story is fecund with the many strains of betrayal bring to the relationship. There is the turmoil of longing and leaving, of meeting and departing, of silence and ever long silence. There is a nostalgic hunger for validation in the slippery pathways of emotions. There are moments of beguiling romanticism and searching for another and for oneself, demonstrating how the translucent margin of exile is more painful than the core itself.
Thirdly, Chekhov shows mastery of what story telling is, economy and supreme simplicity in style. He masterfully approaches the pinnacle of the art of short story which draws you effortlessly to its magic and enchantment. His work elicits deep intensity without being taudry and cheap. His work opens up the psyche of pathos without being bleak. He threads on the human spirit of endurance and the capacity to hope even in the brackish puddle of our existence.
Lastly, because of my introduction to the best known story of Chekhov, doors are slowly opening up for more of his many stories that are waiting to be discovered. Today, I got to read “Fat and Thin” and “Chameleon” which both explore in succinct spelunking of our human map of self-interests and self preservation instincts.
After almost three hours of driving, Chekhov allowed me again to kiss my wife when I finally arrived home because unlike Dmitri whose confusion distracted him from enjoying the play in a Moscow theater, the author gave me clarity on the most important thing there is in love stories, choice.