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Sunday, November 25, 2012

'Suddenly A Knock on the Door' and 'The Girl on the Fridge' short story anthologies by Etgar Keret

 From the BLURB:

Part Kafka, part Vonnegut, with the concerns and comedic delivery of Woody Allen, Etgar Keret is a brilliant and original master of the short story. Hilarious, witty, and always unusual, declared “a genius” by The New York Times, Keret brings all of his prodigious talent to bear in ‘Suddenly, A Knock on the Door’, his sixth bestselling collection. Long a household name in Israel, where he has been declared the voice of his generation, Keret has been acknowledged as one of the country’s most radical and extraordinary writers. Exuding a rare combination of depth and accessibility, Keret’s tales overflow with absurdity, humor, sadness, and compassion, and though their circumstances are often strange and surreal, his characters are defined by a familiar and fierce humanity. ‘Suddenly, Knock on the Door’ is at once Keret’s most mature and most playful work yet, and establishes him as one of the great global writers of the twenty-first century.

Not too long ago my uncle told me to listen to a segment on the radio show ‘This American Life.’ In this particular segment actor John Conlee read the short story ‘Healthy Start’, by Etgar Keret from his anthology ‘Suddenly, a Knock on the Door.’ My uncle told me that while he knew where the story was going, had a vague idea of how it would end; he was still caught off guard. The author was telling a very simple story, very bloody well. And once I listened to the reading of ‘Healthy Start’, I had to agree. So then I went out and bought myself a copy of ‘Suddenly, a Knock on the Door’ which was first published in Israel in 2010, but was only released in America this year. I also bought his 2008 short story anthology ‘The Girl On The Fridge’ partly because I loved the cover art illustration by Zeloot. Both of them delighted and transfixed me over the course of several weeks, and now I think I am a wee bit addicted to Keret’s stunning stories.

Etgar Keret has been a bit of a writing superstar in Israel for years now – renowned for his short stories, graphic novels and screenplays. But in the last few years America has started to sit up and take notice. In 2006 the short stories from his collection ‘Kneller's Happy Campers’ was turned into a movie called ‘Wristcutters: A Love Story.’ And this year one of Keret’s stories inspired designer Jakub Szczesny to make the impossible, possible by building the world’s narrowest house in Poland.

Something I loved in all stories from the 2008 anthology ‘The Girl On The Fridge’ were the strong and absurd visuals. These were among his shortest stories, but they ring with such hyper-coloured clarity and delightful mayhem that they’re probably the ones that stayed with me the longest. Like in ‘Hat Trick’, a story about a children’s magician whose staid rabbit-out-of-the-hat act is suddenly made magically gruesome when the rabbit he pulls out is decapitated. The children are thrilled by the gore, and each time the magician performs the trick a new and awful discovery is made from the hat . . . until the day he pulls out something so awful, and decides never to do the hat trick ever again.  Or in the titled short story ‘The Girl On The Fridge’ a man recounts how his ex-girlfriend spent her childhood atop a fridge, which was her parents’ idea of child-minding. In ‘Loquat’ a grandmother begs her grandson to dress in his military finery (guns and all) when he tells the neighbourhood kids to stop climbing her loquat fruit tree. Or in my favourite short story ‘Crazy Glue’, a woman plays a practical joke on her husband and ends up maybe saving their marriage;

“Fine,” she said and laughed. “I’m not going anywhere.” By then I was laughing too. She was so pretty, and so incongruous, hanging upside down from the ceiling that way. With her long hair dangling downward, and her breasts molded like two perfect teardrops under her white T-shirt. So pretty. I climbed back up onto the pile of books and kissed her. I felt her tongue on mine. The books slipped out from under my feet as I hung there in midair, not touching a thing, dangling from just her lips.
-    Crazy Glue, from ‘The Girl On The Fridge

The stories of ‘The Girl On The Fridge’ are like a swift, fabulist uppercut – they’ll absolutely wallop you, maybe blindside you for being so short, so sweet and so clever. These stories do have more a feel of unreality about them.

By contrast, the slightly longer 36 stories in ‘Suddenly, a Knock on the Door’ beg you to pace yourself and read in small, multiple doses. These ones will stay with you and you’ll find yourself needing a breather after reading a few of them. Like in ‘Creative Writing’, about a man whose wife has started churning out fantastical and wounding short stories in her writing class, partly as a way to escape her own mind after a devastating miscarriage. The man decides to take a few of these creative writing classes too, but his creative well does not run quite so deep. . .

A few more of these short stories are tethered to reality, but it’s Keret’s stranger, fabulist tales that really delight. ‘Unzipped’ begins with a kiss (it almost always begins with a kiss) and a woman named Ella who discovers a teensy zip under her boyfriend’s tongue, and pulls. . . I loved this story – it’s about identity and being afraid to discover who we really are. It’s about accepting people and wishing they would change. It’s about a lot of things, really, and it’s only four pages long. But that’s the beauty of Keret – he says so much and so deeply with seemingly so little.

But my favourite short story has to be the first I heard, thanks to my uncle. In ‘Healthy Start’ a lonely man takes to meeting strangers in a cafe, and being whoever they need him to be;  

Miron shook his head. ‘You have no idea what my life has been like this past year,’ he told the husband. ‘Hell. Not even hell, just one great big stale chunk of nothing. And when you’ve been living with nothing for so long and suddenly something turns up, you can’t just tell it to go away. You understand me, don’t you? I know you understand me.’

-    Healthy Start, from ‘Suddenly, a Knock on the Door

I think Etgar Keret is the perfect antidote for anyone who thinks short stories aren’t for them. For anyone who has ever thought that short stories aren’t as big a deal as a novel. Or, heck, for anyone who just wants to be a little bit mesmerized for the space of a few pages. Keret’s stories are strange and true, fabulist and grimy. His stories aren’t terribly long – but they pack quite a punch.

5/5

1 comment:

  1. Greetings! What's your point of view on who are your common readers?

    ReplyDelete