cover image The Undiscovered Chekhov: 38 New Stories

The Undiscovered Chekhov: 38 New Stories

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. Seven Stories Press, $24 (200pp) ISBN 978-1-888363-76-0

Unearthed by translator Constantine (Six Early Stories, by Thomas Mann) from the archives of the New York Public Library, these humorous tales, sketches and vignettes written by Chekhov in his 20s stand in the same relation to the later stories as his one-act ""vaudevilles"" do to his major plays. Appearing in Moscow and St. Petersburg magazines under such pen names as ""Antosha"" and ""A man without a spleen,"" they display the overflowing energy of a young man exploring sundry genres--satires, sentimental portraits, domestic comedy, impressions of the commonplace--to amuse and to earn money. While the shorter sketches are near-anonymous hackwork, some of the later, longer stories reveal Chekhovian elements, such as a querulous elderly couple ""hissing and growling at each other"" while their daughter's engagement is being decided (""A Serious Step""). An ailing tutor trying to get a prescription discovers he hasn't enough money (""At the Pharmacy""), and a physician brooding over his colleagues can't assume an appropriate facial expression (""Intrigues""). Throughout, readers can see Chekhov training his eye for character and sharpening his ear for dialogue, as well as reveling in a surprisingly boisterous sense of fun. Sometimes the youthful humor explodes into a carnival atmosphere, as in a community's reaction to a tour by Sarah Bernhardt (""Sarah Bernhardt Comes to Town""). These early stories, some of which have appeared recently in Harper's and the New Yorker, deliver the lightest of literary entertainment, with a glimmer of potential brilliance. (Nov.) FYI: Another Chekhov collection is noted below.