THE FIRST SHORT STORY what bothered me was Chekhov’s “The Bet”. Until then, narrative resolution had meant happy endings. Rip van Winkle may find upon awakening that twenty years have passed, or castaway Sinbad will see that his only hope for survival is to hang on to the giant boulder, but these disturbances are only delicious ways to mend. While all the grim foreshadows of “The Bet” end with nothing, the hero simply disappears on the last page.
A banker and a lawyer argue over what is the worst sentence for a crime: life imprisonment or the death penalty. The young lawyer who takes fifteen years of his life to prove his point of view does not emerge triumphant from the cell where he lives his self-imposed solitude. He decides – after a decade and a half of the most voracious bibliomania, hundreds of books consumed and discarded – that human concerns are irrelevant, then he slips out of the garden gate and disappears. Where and why does he give up the two million rubles he must earn to have won the bet? Chekhov, master of enigmatic ends, does not answer. I had to learn to live with my discomfort, accept the slippery nature of the modern short story, understand that its author could open a large window on time and then leave it ajar for eternity.
The social realism of Chekhov’s Russia in the 19th century is so precise that it has been said that his fiction can be used as a sociological source. But its moral code is never obvious, unless one considers it all for itself in an ethic: the exquisitely vivid and vivid details; the loving but often ironic focus on character traits; the way people seem so fixed in their time and yet generally seeking an elevated perspective on it. Like most children, I was also drawn to stories that worked the other way around: their various morals were clearly understood, but they were not exclusively focused on a time and place. The fables of Aesop, the Sufi parables, the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the most allegorical of the Brothers Grimm, even Jesus and his miracles, or the courtly intrigues of the Hindu epics, all these had the roundness so dear to a child who rarely bored. by their lack of realism. And yet, the thirst for realism inevitably takes over.