These stories, which span the full arc of the great Russian writer's career, reveal the extraordinary variety and unexpectedness of his work, from the farcically comic to the darkly complex, showing that there is no one type of "Chekhov story."
In reading the new masterful translations by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky nothing seems lost or Anglicized for effect. Reading these stories, a century later one thinks how prescient Chekhov was: arch, provocative, sardonic, cryptic, and a master of the short-story form ... Chekhov’s miniature prose dramas and comedies present a gallery of unforgettable characters. Many are stylistically Russian fables with scabrous morals about the follies and failures of humans. His often-cryptic endings to his stories or plot red herrings that were an excuse to get to some humanistic and universal truths leave readers to scratch their heads, but still trying to figure out the literary puzzle.
What we have...is a compilation of B-sides. Mr. Pevear says nothing of this in his rather cagey preface ... the value of Fifty-Two Stories is that it humanizes Chekhov himself, reminding us that this often deified figure wrote a great deal of stuff that is decidedly mortal ... On the other hand, a few of Chekhov’s most brilliant and moving profiles in disenchantment appear ... most interesting are the first-rate stories that are less commonly anthologized.
A reader who doesn’t know Russian, of course, has no way of judging if Pevear and Volokhonsky accurately capture the tone of the original. But their direct, plainspoken approach feels particularly appropriate for Chekhov, who once wrote that 'a writer must be as objective as a chemist' ... There is certainly variety in these stories, as well as some familiar Russian types ... while Chekhov clearly relished the challenge of moving between ages and classes, the variety of his settings only highlights the continuities in his work—above all, his increasingly profound interest in comedy. Because Fifty-Two Stories is arranged chronologically...it reveals this development with fascinating clarity ... Several of the tales in Fifty-Two Stories feel like self-conscious trials of empathy, in which Chekhov the doctor tries to imagine his way into the minds of textbook 'cases' ... But the most powerful tales in Fifty-Two Stories are the ones that revolve around laughter and being laughed at.