Abram Tertz is a name with which I was unfamiliar until Anna brought one of his short story collections home from college. For years, it’s sat on our shelves, and I’ve occasionally thought, Hmm. That could be interesting. But I’ve left it unread until now.
If you’re following my reading list progress (and you’re probably not), I had planned to read Dostoevsky’s The Idiot next. I felt relatively burned out by the process of reading through Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, and so I decided to read a couple of short story collections instead. I planned on Tertz’ collection, and another of stories by Anton Chekhov.
I read Tertz and enjoyed the experience quite a lot. Some of the stories are, legitimately, fantastic. Others are so-so. But on the whole, it was a satisfying read. Chekhov, on the other hand, was miserable, and I did something I nearly never do with a book. I quit. I kept trying. I read maybe 20 stories or so. But then I was done. The last story I finished was little more than a menu–the speaker was a law clerk, and his detailed culinary description drove all the other characters out of the room. In the end, it drove me away as well. Some have called Chekhov the greatest short story writer in history. But then, some people eat snails. I respectfully reserve my right to think and do otherwise.
But back to Tertz (real name: Andrei Sinyavsky). He’s sharp. He manages to tackle human dignity, artistic integrity, and the difficult questions of life. At the end of the collection, you’re not radically transformed by the experience, but you can appreciate it. It’s a little odd–some of the tales deal with time travel (sort of) or alien life. A longer tale deals exclusively with the insane urge to be a writer (rather than to write). Pick it up, read a tale or two as they catch your interest.
The classical writers—it’s them I hate the most! Before I was so much as born they stole the vacant places and I was faced with their competition without possessing one hundredth part of their inflated authority. “Read Chekhov, read Chekhov!” people kept on at me all my life, tactlessly suggesting that Chekhov wrote better than I.
But to be honest, did Tolstoy and Chekhov really write so very well? Well, that’s exactly my point! That Chekhov ought to be taken by his wretched tubercular beard and have his nose shoved in his consumptive hawkings that have unfortunately now dried up. “Stop writing, graphomaniac!” he ought to have been told. “Stop writing! Don’t spoil good paper!”
So, good. Someone else agrees.
Next up, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.
Until next time,