Friday, May 30, 2008

"The Bet" by Anton Chekhov

Source: Librivox
Length: 18 min
Reader: William Coon

The story: In the heat of a debate over the morality of capital punishment versus life imprisonment, a lawyer and a banker propose a bet: for a stake of 2 million, the lawyer will remain imprisoned in a room of the doctor's estate for 15 years. During this time, he is not allowed any visitors, letters, or newspapers, but may have books, food, wine, and a musical instrument. Over the next 15 years, the lawyer seems to try out different ways to cope with his isolation. Finally, the eve of the prisoner's release arrives and the doctor is restless with worry, not so much for the freed lawyer, but for himself.

This story is an excellent example of Chekhov's ability to blend plot with meaning. The lawyer's reading habits within his jail reflect almost every response not just to imprisonment, but to the loneliness of the human condition: escapism, literature, sensualism, intellectual accomplishment, religion, and science. This search mirrors the plight of the preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes, right down to the conclusion, "Everything is meaningless!" Combined with the Biblical allusions and profound insight, Chekhov builds a tale that is also suspenseful. The doctor's malevolent intentions not only provide a counterpoint to the lawyer's search for meaning, but bring the story to a thrilling climax.

The reader: William Coon really gets the listener into the story. The deep, resonant voice is perfect for this piece. As the story gathers steam, the pace and tension of the reading increase, moving the action along. This piece is read so well, you might assume that Mr. Coon is not just a dedicated Librivox volunteer, but a professional voice-over artist - and now he is! If you're looking for more pieces read by Mr. Coon, he has started doing professional work for Wonder Audio.

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