Chekhov, Marx and synergy

Here's some literature even Tina Brown could love.

Published July 27, 1998 5:10PM (EDT)

Tina Brown is leaving the New Yorker to go to Miramax where, according to the New York Times, her mandate will be "inventing a magazine ... to dig up the kind of articles that might be turned into movies and television specials that Miramax, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, would have the capacity to help package, circulate and promote."

Many enterprising publishers, in a similar spirit of vertical integration, are looking to their own backlists, fiction and nonfiction alike, and, with minor adjustments, increasing the works' synergistic potential. Below, some of their efforts:

Three Sisters and a Baby

By Anton Chekhov

Scribbler's, $11

The Prozorov house. Olga, wearing a dark-blue high school teacher's dress, stands and walks about, distractedly. Masha, in black, sits reading. Irina is lost in thought at the window in a white dress.

OLGA: It's a year ago today that Father died, May fifth, on your birthday, Irina. It was very cold and it snowed.

IRINA: I don't want to think about it ...

OLGA: And it's almost 11 years exactly since we left Moscow.

(A knock is heard.)

MASHA: If only we could return. Sell this house, and return to Moscow. I'm sick of it!

IRINA: Did you hear something?

OLGA: Four years at that high school and each day my spirit is a little more diminished. I get so tired and have headaches all the time. It's as if I've become old overnight.

(Anfisa, the Prozorovs' 80-year-old nurse, enters carrying a bundle.)

ANFISA: Look here, look here! A foundling, on the doorstep!

OLGA: But how can it be? On the doorstep, are you sure, Anfisa?

IRINA: (still at the window) How wonderful it must be to get up at dawn and toil at paving streets, or be a shepherd, teach children or work on the railroad. That would be true happiness.

MASHA: Look, there's a note: "To the Prozorov sisters. I leave you with this child. I do not know which one of you this child belongs to, but rest assured, he is one of yours. I still keep many fond memories of my weekend with you all, even now as I prepare to kill myself. Regards, Arkady Dominikovich Galoshchapov." Funny, that name rings not even the vaguest bell of memory. How odd.

OLGA: Very. What will we do? I've no time to take care of a baby, what with teaching during the day, and tutoring at night.

MASHA: What about me? I'm in mourning for my youth, and weep all day.

IRINA: And I have become a mere shade, an ethereal carapace of the girl I once was, as brittle as a sun-parched seed casing. I'm afraid any child in my care is an assured goner.

MASHA: (taking up her book again) Well, I'm sure we'll have a great many amusing mishaps and adventures, what with our collective lack of experience.

OLGA: Yes, there's bound to be as much hilarity and happenstance as if we were all back in Moscow.

OLGA, MASHA, IRINA: (all sigh) Moscow ...

Charlotte's Web

By E.B. White

HarpoonCodfish, $15.99

Wilbur often thought about his beloved friend Charlotte, the one who had started it all for him. Or rather, he meant to think of her often, but with "Charlotte's Web" the fastest-growing cyber concern in the industry, with more than 300,000 hits a day, and the Charlotte's Web Browser built into every new computer being produced, he was lucky if he could even remember to eat. He was considerably slimmed down now. Zuckerman had traded in his farm to become his business manager. Fern was a gimcrack intern in the front office, and her brother Avery was Wilbur's personal trainer. "Some Pig" indeed, he thought. "Not bad for a runt on his way to the slaughterhouse a few seasons back." Yes, thanks to Charlotte. He'd have to make some kind of a donation to the Arachnid Foundation. He'd get Fern on it tomorrow. He cracked open his copy of "Atlas Shrugged," then he knit his porcine brow in a worried expression. Tomorrow, he would have to face that congressional antitrust committee. Tiny little piss-ants. He had more drive and vision in the curling tip of his pink tail then they had put together. Laws. Laws were for the little people. Fuck them. Fuck them all, he thought, as he closed his tiny piggy eyes and dropped off into dreamless piggy slumber.

I Love You, and Not Just Like a Friend, Charlie Brown

By Charles Schulz

Mealymouth Books, $9.99

The Peanuts gang as you've never seen them! Lucy Van Pelt pulls that football away one time too many, and Charlie Brown is forced once and for all to prove that he is a man. A good man. A very good man, indeed, Charlie Brown. Baby brother Linus Van Pelt, still in shock that his beloved kindergarten teacher, Miss Othmar, gets paid to teach, is in for an even bigger surprise when he finds out what else she'll do for money. And, tired of living a lie, Peppermint Patty and longtime gal pal Marcy, with cat Martina in tow, load up the Subaru and take off for the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.


by Imile Zola

Nadir, $23

Nana was left alone, her face upturned in the light from the candle. What lay on the pillow was a charnel house, a heap of pus and blood, a shovelful of putrid flesh. The pustules had invaded the whole face so that one pock touched the next. Withered and sunken, they had taken on the greyish color of mud, and on this shapeless pulp, in which the features had ceased to be discernible, they already looked like mould from the grave.

She was also totally naked.

The Communist Manifesto

By Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, with an introduction by Arianna Huffington

Knee Slapper Editions, $14

Following her astounding success with the Pop-Up Protocols of the Elders of Zion (over 120,000 copies in print), Huffington, the Beltway's most beloved and charmingly accented wiseacre of the right, turns her gimlet eye to Karl, "who makes Zeppo look like a barrel of laughs," and uses this seminal text, celebrating its 150th birthday this year, as the Means of Production for chuckles a-plenty.

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck

Maudlin Library, $11.95

Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. "You got to," she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. "There!" she said. "There." Her hand moved gently behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.

"Fantastic! Oh, gorgeous! Hold it." The barn was lit as in a conflagration for only an instant, leaving behind it the sulfurous odor of flash powder.

"Stop the rain!" screamed the photographer. The downpour outside abruptly ended. "We're going to be telling a very Dust Bowl story this season. It's all about sunken cheeks and burlap clothing." A brilliantined apostrophe of an assistant came running up with a large chilled wheat grass juice.

"I love you Okies," he mused between sips, surveying his latest discovery, Rose of Sharon Joad, one more time. "You're all so marvelously thin!"

The Kiss

By Oedipus Rex

Gritty Spinach Press, $22

Acknowledgments: There are so many who helped to make this book a reality. First and foremost, Dr. Sheldon Feinberg, Laser Keratotomy Wizard extraordinaire, pride of Beth Israel, who reversed the foolish, self-mutilating act of a young man's unprocessed rage. Thank you, Sheldon. Candace, at Bliss Spa, who understood that it was sometimes as important for me to look good and feel good about myself as it was for me to get my pages in on time. My agent, the irrepressible, adorably bumptious Punky Sylvan at Artistic Manipulation International: I love you like a mother (ha!). My real mother, Jocasta, for providing me with the deep furrow I plowed for this immensely rich, often painful material. And to the gods, creators of the numberless wonders of the world, whose will is unknowable, lapidary, joyous and vengeful. Thanks a lot, you guys. Next time, the drinks are on me.

And finally ... Dad, I'm really, really sorry.

By David Rakoff

David Rakoff's forthcoming book is "Half Empty." He lives in New York.

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