* Picked by Peter Ahern
It’s that beautiful Russian summer landscape, a million miles from the sea, but the centre of the world, where you think every Chekhov story is set, certainly this one, with the central, but gratuitous, swim in the pond in the rain. Yes, that’s a nice touch: rain in the summer. So it must be one of those places, here in the unending summer countryside, where you cannot but be happy.
Somehow Chekhov stories always seem to be right here: you are surrounded by an infinite steppe, grasslands stretch away into the distance, trees glitter forever, and there are always sparkling streams and lakes. And though you’ve read this story a dozen times, and you know what happens, knowing all too well the grim and pathetic story within the story, to the point of being haunted by it, as the characters themselves will be, you still find yourself just where you want to be, so that what comes next, how things unfold, is both impossibly far away, as well as just around the corner. How could anybody not be happy here? Here of all places?
And now you remember, it was just such a Russian summer landscape that had captured the imagination of the story’s central character. How it had haunted him. And now you remember the plate of gooseberries. And you get the most awful, if subtle, shiver down your spine. Ah yes, this isn’t really a summer story. no, not at all. And isn’t it odd how you always forget the rain.
First published in Russian in Russkaya Mysl, 1898. Variously translated, including by Rosamund Bartlett in About Love and Other Stories, Oxford World’s Classics, 2004)
Peter Ahern is a teacher of great stories and other things. He blogs about the best novels and stories, as well as teaching them, at www.onehundredpages.wordpress.com