Get it here
This is another fable-like work from Tolstoy, and one I found more satisfying in the detail than in the overall story. The tale, such as it is, is a simple one: A money grasping businessman goes out to close a deal, taking his servant and horse with him, when the weather suggested that wiser heads would have stayed at home. After losing their way a few times, and meeting various people who are unnecessary for the plot, they become stuck, and are faced with a night in the open, during a blizzard. Without giving the end away, the businessman performs a selfless act, which changes his world view.
The problem for me was that I didn't believe the transfiguration of the man, but instead found the great realism of the background made me want to explore that further. Tolstoy displays a great ability to render a character likeness with his thumb-nail, so to speak, and I completely believed in the reality of all of the characters, which made the conclusion all the more troublesome for me. Surprisingly, I also found the god-like knowledge of the narrator jarring: he records with confidence every half-formed thought of the businessman, and shows great skill in laying bare human thought processes. I just wondered how he got to know all these facts. Of course, every novelist has to solve this problem through some trickery; its just that I wasn't fooled by Tolstoy this time: I knew it was just a man telling a story he had made up, and consequently, I could not react at an emotional level.
One extra thought: Tolstoy really has it in for businessmen, and the pursuit of wealth. Fine if you have it already. Thoreau has a very low opinion of the profit motive as well, so as a professional capitalist myself, I feel rather got at. Writers as a breed seem to take a dim view of money. Unless they inherit it. Or until they get some. So; it seems you can go after it, but you must never make the going after it look like you are trying.
Brooks Jensen reads this for Librivox with the confidence of a seasoned pro, but I had not heard his voice before. I will look out for it in future. I would love to know his views on the work, and his motivations for reading it. Perhaps I have missed something.
Next: 'The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton