I hope everyone is having a wonderful post-Thanksgiving weekend! Mine has been productive–so productive, in fact, that I’m thrilled to announce that The Dreaming Land III: The Sacrifice is live, ready for its pre-launch preparations!
I’ll be doing a free giveaway of the ebook for the “official” launch in December, but meanwhile the paperback is available, the ebook is free to read on KU, and of course, if you got an ARC, reviews are as always hugely appreciated!
Right now I’m torn between joy at the book’s arrival in the world, stress over all the little details of the launch (I had to go in and fix a couple of little things in the book this morning after doing another re-read, and then there’s the promo set-up), and worry that it might indeed be a toxic mold issue on top of my late-stage Lyme disease that is destroying my ability to walk.
I’m sure I’ll have more updates on the is-it-also-mold saga later, but in the meantime, if you’re interested in the toxic mold issue (and who wouldn’t be, I mean, really?), I suggest you check out Julie Rehmeyer’s fascinating memoir Through the Shadowlands, which is what brought the problem to my attention in the first place.
Being seriously ill basically sucks, in case you’re wondering, but it does make me appreciate all kinds of things I didn’t know to appreciate earlier, Chekhov being one of them. I have to confess–don’t stone me, sister Russianists–that I didn’t actually like Chekhov when I was first introduced to him. I read “Uncle Vanya” as an undergrad,
Maybe if I’d seen the Vakhtangov Theatre’s daring, stripped-down reimagination of “Uncle Vanya” back then, I’d have appreciated it more.
and thought it was tedious and depressing. And, because I, like my heroine Valya, never could be told what to do, I rebelled against the professor who kept insisting on how great Chekhov was and how we all had to admire him as one of the greats of world literature, etc., etc…to be a honest, a lot of professors turned me off a lot of great works of literature by insisting that they were wonderful without explaining why. Something I’ve tried to take into consideration now that I–oh irony!–am a professor myself, and get to force hapless undergrads to read things that are good for them, even though they themselves don’t always agree.
Anyway, I was re-introduced to Chekhov in grad school, where I did in fact learn a proper appreciation of him, enough to make me work lots of homages to his various stories into my own stories. The Breathing Sea duology is filled with references to “In the Ravine” (more on that later, I’m sure), The Dreaming Land II has a section that riffs on “Gooseberries” (more on that later too), and The Dreaming Land III has a little moment that borrows from “Misery.”
Other than that these stories all have striking scenes that caught my imagination, I think the thing that ties them together is that they all speak, in some way or another, to the problem of understanding other people’s unhappiness, and empathizing with other people, including people you might not want to empathize with. “Misery” is the story of a cab driver whose son has just died, but when he tries to tell his passengers about it, no one seems to care, compounding his misery:
And Iona turns round to tell them how his son died, but at that point the hunchback gives a faint sigh and announces that, thank God! they have arrived at last. After taking his twenty kopecks, Iona gazes for a long while after the revelers, who disappear into a dark entry. Again he is alone and again there is silence for him…. The misery which has been for a brief space eased comes back again and tears his heart more cruelly than ever. With a look of anxiety and suffering Iona’s eyes stray restlessly among the crowds moving to and fro on both sides of the street: can he not find among those thousands someone who will listen to him? But the crowds flit by heedless of him and his misery…. His misery is immense, beyond all bounds. If Iona’s heart were to burst and his misery to flow out, it would flood the whole world, it seems, but yet it is not seen. It has found a hiding-place in such an insignificant shell that one would not have found it with a candle by daylight….
Finally he finds the sympathetic listener he needs–in his horse.
Chekhov, like Jane Austen, seems to cry out for remakings, reworkings, and reimaginings.
“Misery” gets a modern remake in the story of the Finnish cab driver in “Night on Earth”
And so I joined in on the Chekhov bandwagon and included my own re-envisioning of the above-quoted scene from “Misery” in TDLIII: The Sacrifice:
“Is she still bleeding?” I asked, without opening my eyes. A sadness that was so enormous it felt like it must be billowing around me in a giant cloud, spreading out over all of the kremlin and all of Krasnograd, had filled me, making it difficult to speak…The sadness floated around us, but I pushed it away, blew it away from me like someone flapping cloth to blow away smoke. With similar success. Eddies kept wafting around my pathetic cloth shield, trying to choke me.
Hmmm, maybe my undergraduate self had a point. Chekhov can be a real downer. But as he would be quick to point out, I’m sure, life isn’t all a box of chocolates. Bad things, sad things, happen all the time, and sometimes reading about them can help us deal with them a little better in real life. And if you can’t face misery, how can you act with compassion towards your own and others’ suffering?
Valya would probably have something bracing to say about that. I, on the other hand, will just point out that along with everything else, both the Magic and Fantasy and the Dark Nights and Book Delights giveaways are still going strong, so why not check them out if you haven’t already?
Till next time!