Tag Archives: Anton Chekhov

“And Time Was No More” by Teffi

3 May

SubtlyWorded

The physical object that is Teffi’s Subtly Worded elicits in me a desire for extravagance. The texture of the cover, the deckled edge pages, the small purse-sized shape, the delectable bird pulling upon the woman’s hat ribbon—it is all delicious. (I have confessed here to hugging bookcases before; I also hug books.) Content-wise, I was intrigued with what perspectives Teffi, a Russian who fled the Revolution for France and has been compared to Chekhov, might offer.

It took me a few years to get through this collection, however. The prose is gorgeous, and I don’t fully understand why I couldn’t connect with these stories more. They seemed to lack a certain undercurrent. Perhaps they demand rereading. I did not enjoy Chekhov’s “Gusev” initially; I only came around on that story when rereading.

I decided to finally finish Subtly Worded this past New Year’s Eve. Michael and I went to the Fireside Lounge at the Hotel Sorrento (which is one of my favorite places in Seattle; check out their monthly Silent Reading Party). Our waitress had a wholesome yet aristocratic look about her in a cream-colored silk blouse; it seemed somehow fitting to the world of Teffi. There was live jazz and a roaring fire. And a chanteuse with a melodica, which she defined as the love child of an accordion and harmonica. Michael read Hanna Krall’s Chasing the King of Hearts, which he adored (another book to add to my WIT pile). My cocktail tasted like chocolate and pine-sap.

“And Time Was No More,” my favorite story in Subtly Worded, is set in a cabin in the woods and moves with a dreamy end-of-life nostalgia. I wanted to copy out nearly every luscious paragraph. Here’s one that sums up the theme and impressionistic atmosphere:

“Sunset, on the other hand, is always sad. It may be voluptuous and opulent, and as richly sated as an Assyrian king, but it is always sad, always solemn. It is the death of the day.”

In the hotel lounge, a young woman strutted her newfound charms (plunging neckline, stilettos) beside her parents. Meanwhile, in Teffi: “At least once in your life you should hear a fox singing.”

The story turns quite philosophical. A mysterious hunter tells the narrator, “Just think of me as a composite character from your previous life.” The philosophical conversation between hunter and narrator got to be a bit too much, but the conceit, this sort of last-day-on-earth mélange of memory, did stick with me. Plus who doesn’t want to hear a fox singing?

What Makes a Story “Chekhovian”?

3 Apr

I’m really looking forward to teaching a new short story class at Hugo House about Anton Chekhov and his influence on modern short story writing. So many craft techniques in wide use today originated from Chekhov, and I learned a lot deeply engaging with his stories. In fact, my story “Old Boyfriends” started out as an imitation of the structure and themes in “Gusev“. In addition to reading iconic stories from Chekhov, we’ll read Mavis Gallant and Jhumpa Lahiri and Ehud Havazelet, and try our hands at a range of techniques. Here’s a micro-lesson preview of the class. I hope to see there, Mondays 7-9 pm, starting April 27!

Intro to Fiction: Writing the Short Story

21 Nov

This winter, I’m teaching Intro to Fiction: Writing the Short Story, a six-week class at Hugo House laying out crucial elements of story. Here’s the course description:

This class will zero in on the three-part backbone of story: character, plot, and landscape. Who is your main character? What do they want? What keeps them from getting what they want? Readings and discussions will include canonical and contemporary stories from James Joyce, Anton Chekhov, Mavis Gallant, Jamaica Kincaid, Louise Erdrich, and others. Writing exercises will focus on crucial craft elements as well as generative exercises to get started.

I’m also teaching a special one-day class at the Henry Art Gallery in conjunction with Ann Hamilton’s show the common S E N S E, which I’ll write more about in a separate post. Registration for Hugo House members begins on December 9 and for the general public on December 16. Hope to see you there!

“Old Boyfriends” in Propeller Magazine

2 Dec

My short story “Old Boyfriends” is in Propeller Magazine this week. Here’s how it starts:

It’s four p.m.: the sun is gone.

Sandra, a graduate student in archaeology, lurches forward with the bus along Avenue du Parc.

“This roof’s all bone,” Sandra says, rapping her knuckles to her skull.

continue reading

Back in my MFA program at the University of Washington, I took two “creative writer as critical reader” classes (my favorite classes from the program) one after the other, in poetry with Heather McHugh and then prose with David Bosworth, my adviser. Heather brought in a translation of Anton Chekhov’s story “Gusev” that she’d been working on with Nikolai Popov, a prose-bone to throw at the small contingent of prosers in her class. At first, I bristled against the story, feeling disoriented in its dark, suffocating setting. But the ending was wonderful and the more I read it, the more I loved the whole thing. I loved seeing how the story opened up with Gusev sinking in the ocean among the sharks and the pilot fish and how the light in the sky shifted to green, to violet, to gold, to rose. In David’s class, we were invited to choose a short story that we wanted to study deeply and either imitate or take its structure and themes and write a story we’d already been wanting to write within that structure or launching off of it somehow. I chose the latter, among other things making Gusev’s ship into Sandra’s city bus and kind of letting the story take over from there. Dan DeWeese, the editor of Propeller, had a couple wonderful suggestions that ultimately took the story away from the exercise and made me excited about the story all over again, since writing that first draft back in 2010.
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