Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story, one of the last that Carver wrote, is quite unlike his usual portrayals of life among ordinary contemporary Americans. Instead, Carver has used many of the details of Chekhov’s last days to make a story that is part biography and part fiction. As the story progresses, Carver indicates the material he drew from letters and journals of Chekhov’s relatives and acquaintances. At the same time, he adds material such as the hotel employee in order to give the story texture and thematic focus.

Although this story, with its foreign setting and its historical detail, differs from Carver’s usual work, its style is what Carver’s readers have come to expect. Carver’s sentences are bare; he uses relatively little modification, with the result that he sometimes seems rather distanced from his characters. It is his minute observation of detail that gives the story its emotional impact. The story deals with death and alienation, themes that inform much of Carver’s work. At the end, the reader is moved by Chekhov’s death partly because of his wife’s tender devotion to him, partly because Chekhov is so little able to confront it, and partly because the man and his work remain so unknowable to the rest of the world—here suggested by the hotel employee, the very sort of person about whom Carver usually wrote. That the artist who interprets the lives of others must himself remain a mystery is an irony that surely Carver relished.