The beauty of reading short stories is you can read from anywhere in the book so I am working my way from the front and the back reading both a 19th century and a 20th century writer.
The Greatcoat – Nikolay Gogol
The story follows Akaky Akakiyevich a government clerk who has no ambition lives a solitary life and tries to get by without spending a great deal. His great coat starts to fall apart and the tailor upstairs refuses to patch up his old one so he buys a new one and it changes how he is perceived in the office and how he feels about himself. His colleagues throw a party to celebrate his new coat and on his way home he is robbed and loses his coat. Akaky ends up going to an influential general to seek help but instead gets shouted at. Soon after crushed by adversity Akaky dies and haunts the square where he lost his coat taking others until he finally comes across the general and strips him of his coat. The general comes home and never shouts at people in quite the same way.
Akaky would have done better to have relaxed but the coat became everything for him and the general would have done better to listen.
Excerpts from the Kolyma Tales – Varlam Shalamov
Kolyma gained the reputation of being the worst camp in Stalin’s large gulag network and a book made up of stories about the camp was how Shalamov recorded his decade there. The stories Through the Snow and Berries, which start the cycle of stories give an indication very quickly of the cold, cruelty and misery of the life of the prisoners. In Berries a guard shoots a prisoner picking berries over the demarcation line and then expresses regret that Shalamov didn’t also cross the line because he would have liked to have killed him as well.