My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The edition I read had just three stories: "First Love," "Spring Torrents," and "A Fire at Sea" -- a very odd trio they make. They are about 70, 140, and 10 pages respectively. If this were a muscle man competition, "Spring Torrents" would beat out the title story as a matter of sheer bulk, while the last story would have no choice but to quiver in his chair at the back of the stage, hoping beyond hope that no one sits on him.
The first two are thematically very similar: two tales of thwarted love, so obviously and painfully drawn from the author's own experience. Ah, the sweet melancholy of love unrequited or otherwise unfulfilled -- with my harsh old soul at my tender young age, it's really the only kind of love story I can take. Though I am still very new to his writing, I have reached a conclusion: this is Turgenev and I love him for it.
He was so preoccupied with this kind of tale, that his novel Fathers and Sons, really a novel of the generational gap, politics, philosophy and everything manly, found its way to a love story right quick! I can't but shake my head and smile. Even hard old hearts, hidden behind large and severe Russian beards have always been liable to melt.
"First Love" I read months ago, in another collection. Though I was largely impressed, and ate happily my first dose of the author's writings, I was rather peeved by the ending. I suppose it's one of those stories you can reread and then discover all the hints of the surprise ending hidden in plain view. But I, for my part, have not done this yet and am still convinced that the ending was jolting and disjointed.
"Spring Torrents" (or "Torrents of Spring" as I think I've seen it called) is at the other end, slow at first, with an unremarkable Italian girl for the main man's affections -- but it builds, ending unexpectedly, in a manner I feel I can be proud of.
"A Fire at Sea" is a major departure from its two older brothers and thus feels rather gruesomely tacked on. It is the autobiographical tale of a sea voyage the author took when he was about nineteen. The title spoils the premise -- it did really happen, and Turgenev freaked out, supposedly knocking aside children and women, and offering a crew member a ridiculous sum to save him. Well, that's what some other memoirs say, though Turgenev himself naturally paints a picture of more general uproar, thus shrinking and trivializing his own part...
This story could be (and probably has been) used to great effect in another, larger collection of the author's short works. It was written near the end of his life, about an event near the beginning -- an event that was always a source of embarrassment but colored his writing just the same. But here it has no place and shocks the reader out of the sharp and brooding reverie of what I now see as a pair of typical Turgenev love stories.
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