‘A man in Monte Carlo goes to the casino, wins a million, returns home, commits suicide.’
Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco, c.1890
From New Left Review:
In one of his notebooks, Chekhov recorded the following anecdote: ‘A man in Monte Carlo goes to the casino, wins a million, returns home, commits suicide.’ The classic form of the short story is condensed within the nucleus of that future, unwritten story. Contrary to the predictable and conventional (gamble–lose–commit suicide), the intrigue is presented as a paradox. The anecdote disconnects the story of the gambling and the story of the suicide. That rupture is the key to defining the double character of the story’s form. First thesis: a short story always tells two stories.
The classic short story—Poe, Quiroga —narrates Story One (the tale of the gambling) in the foreground, and constructs Story Two (the tale of the suicide) in secret. The art of the short story writer consists in knowing how to encode Story Two in the interstices of Story One. A visible story hides a secret tale, narrated in an elliptical and fragmentary manner. The effect of surprise is produced when the end of the secret story appears on the surface.
Each of the two stories is told in a different manner. Working with two stories means working with two different systems of causality. The same events enter simultaneously into two antagonistic narrative logics. The essential elements of the story have a dual function, and are employed in different ways in each of the two stories. The points where they intersect are the foundations of the story’s construction.