The Other Chekhov, edited by Okla Elliott and Kyle Minor

Reviewed by Miriam Kotzin

The Other Chekhov is an anthology of ten stories by the Russian master, presented in Constance Garnett’s well-known translation. What makes this collection of stories remarkable—beyond the qualities that mark any selection of Chekhov’s fiction?
The editors of this volume, Okla Elliott and Kyle Minor, have themselves provided an opening essay, with quotations about Chekhov by Francine Prose and Richard Ford--and a person identified only as “Frank” who voices the oft-heard complaint: “Chekhov is boring.  Nothing happens.” The editors present this group of stories as an answer to that criticism. Without Googling, answer this: in what Chekhov story is there a shark? You’ll find it in The Other Chekhov.
It isn’t only Chekhov that’s the draw in this anthology. Elliott and Minor explain that they “invited ten contemporary writers to introduce one story each, in any way they like.”  The result is a variety of approaches that the editors sum up as  “personal essays, critical essays, imagined Chekhovian narratives, [and a] comic strip.”  Not your usual fare.
The writers and the stories they introduce are: Pinckney Benedict (“The Witch”), Fred Chappell (“From the Diary of a Violent-Tempered Man”), Christopher Coake (“Gusev”—the shark’s here.), Paul Crenshaw (“The Dead Body”), Dorothy Gambrell (“In a Strange Land”—this is introduced with the graphic story.), Steve Gillis (“Misery”), Michelle Herman (“The Kiss”), Jeff Parker (“The Huntsman), Benjamin Percy (“The Murder”), and David Slavitt (“The Two Volodyas”).
This anthology’s a treasure, not only for the Chekhov, but for these introductions, which are insightful and lively. Some address Chekhov’s method of narration in a manner that not only illuminates the story for a reader, but also offers a lesson for an aspiring writer. The creative non-fiction is superb (Percy, Parker, Gillis, and Benedict—from whose essay I learned the term “over-chicked”). They address the Chekhov and give the themes a personal context. Then as is typical of excellent creative non-fiction, they go beyond the personal statement to the profound comment on what it means to be human.  Chappell’s piece, a story, may well find its way into another anthology sans the Chekhov. 
For those whose libraries are already stocked with Chekhov, this is still a good investment for the pleasure of reading these introductions.  And for those who have shied away—for the Franks—this is a book that will show why his work is prized by so many.
Okla Elliott and Kyle Minor, eds.  The Other Chekhov, New American Press, 2008. 239 pages.

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Miriam N. Kotzin

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The Other Chekhov, edited by Okla Elliott and Kyle Minor Reviewed by Miriam Kotzin