(Above: a contemplative Maxim Gorky)
The best authors – or at least my favorite authors – share an amazing ability to paint quite a vivid picture of their characters in just a few words. This trait is naturally very useful when writing short stories. Kurt Vonnegut comes to mind as one blessed with this faculty. I remember when the book club of The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library read “Sucker’s Portfolio” (his posthumously published collection of “new” short stories) thinking that, though the stories themselves were perhaps not up to his usual high standards, his characters were still often fully fleshed out in short, machine gun-like bursts of description.
Maxim Gorky also possessed this skill, and it is on display in his short story, “Her Lover,” which I had assigned to the ten of clubs and was the 24th story I read for my annual “Deal Me In” short story project. (See project details and my entire roster of 2014 stories here)
***Minor Spoilers follow (link to read the story online follows at the end if you’d like to read it first)***
The story’s narrator is a young student in Moscow, who occupies a garret apartment in a boarding house. His neighbor in the apartment on the other side of the attic was a woman of ill-repute:
“She was a Pole, and they called her Theresa. She was a tallish, powerfully-built brunette, with black, bushy eyebrows and a coarse face as if carved out by a hatchet – the bestial gleam of her dark eyes, her thick base voice, her cabman-like gait and her immense muscular vigor, worthy of a fishwife, inspired me with horror.”
Over the course of the story, though, the student comes to learn more about this “mastodon in petticoats”(!) and overcomes his horror enough to grant a favor by writing a letter for his illiterate neighbor. A letter to “her lover” she has presumably left behind in Warsaw… The student’s relationship with this woman also leads him to gain some lessons that he likely wasn’t being taught at school, such as how “the more a human creature has tasted of the bitter things the more it hungers after the sweet things of life.”
It also leads him to re-evaluate his judgmental attitude and quick dismissal he often feels toward others: “…I felt so sick, so miserable, so ashamed, somehow. Alongside of me, not three yards away, lived a human creature who had nobody in the world to treat her kindly, affectionately, and this human being had invented a friend for herself.”
I own the story as part of my great e-book “Best Russian Short Stories” collection – a perfect component of my Deal Me In project, since it pictures a Queen of Spades on the cover (for the Pushkin story of that name). :-)
Have you read anything by Maxim Gorky? I’ve covered two of his stories on this blog before, One Autumn Night and Twenty-Six and One. Which authors do you think are best at writing great and short characterizations?
The story may be read for free online at http://www.online-literature.com/maxim-gorky/1653/
Up next week for Deal Me In 2014: The Two of Hearts – deuces are wild and hearts are my suit for women authors so all I can say at this point is story 25 will be one written by a woman…
(Below: Yes, it’s a mastodon. Sans petticoats.)