At the Guardian, James Lasdun unpacks Chekhov.
. . . the unpredictable shapes of his stories (ask yourself, as you read them, where they might be going: it’s almost always impossible to guess, and yet when you get there it feels inevitable and entirely natural), the endings that “solve” nothing in the conventional sense but do indeed finalise the “correct presentation” of the problem—all this is premised, not on some simple ambition to strike a new note, but on a new way of looking at reality that required new methods to express it. . .
I’ve noticed a trend in my stories. The narrative, driven more or less by the internal processes of the protagonist, almost always winds up derailed by an event that occurs outside of their making, forcing them to deal with it in the finale. A middle-aged woman breaking it off with her young lover is nearly killed by a passing ship in the last scene; a girl unknowingly stuck in the anger phase of grief is in a violent fight with her support group on the beach, when a Flamenco dancer appears out of nowhere and walks into the waves.
They are neither inevitable nor entirely natural, so much as they are the intersections of universes. Still, teachers have referred to them as unorganic. But when I try to rewrite them as simpler endings generated by the main character’s own intense emotions, it feels totally inauthentic and against my worldview. As a child, I reacted and responded and adapted to the chaos around me – I had little direction, just dreams. As an adult, I’m aimless, waiting for tragedy and trouble to give me something to do.
So isn’t it just my artistic vision that my stories end this way? Is it really fear of staying with the character’s intense, climaxing emotions – as I was quick to suggest to my teachers; or is it simply the way my world turns?
Is it necessarily a weak choice to bring in a deus ex machina to simulate the trauma life throws at you while you were in the midst of some completely different crisis – a crisis that now suddenly seems so pathetically impotent? What if it just happens naturally, as I follow a story on the page?
Is not my work, too, premised “not on some simple ambition to strike a new note, but on a new way of looking at reality that required new methods to express it”?
Chew chew chew. Finding myself as an artist, trusting myself as an artist. Chew chew chew.