This book of 35 stories by an Israeli writer brings to mind Kafka, in that you must be prepared for the main character to turn into a cockroach. The tone and underlying message are generally much lighter than Kafka’s and in some cases the stories are sweet and straight forward. Some of my favorites, though, are those in the absurdist vein.
One, called Unzipping, starts this way: “It began with a kiss. It almost always begins with a kiss.” A woman discovers her boyfriend has a tiny zipper under his tongue. She unzips it while he is asleep to discover another man she knew who takes her boyfriend’s place. He turns out to be quite unpleasant and eventually leaves. She wonders if it was a mistake to unzip her boyfriend; and then discovers she has a tiny zipper under her own tongue and ponders whether it would be wise to unzip it.
I think my favorite is the one told by an unrepentent murderer who has no problem killing anyone for money, women, children, not a problem for him. While on death row, he quizzes the priest so he will be prepared to fight as necessary to be top dog in hell. The priest tells him that hell is different for each person and he is so annoyed that though he is bound hand and foot, he manages to hit the priest. After he dies, he discovers he is being held by a giant and he begins making plans to find the giant’s weak spot. Instead, he finds himself responding to the giant, “And I love you too, Christopher Robin.”
In a few minutes, sometimes as few as 3 minutes, Keret is able to paint a concept, a person, a situation that grabs you. His artistry is especially amazing in that reality as we think of it is not the medium. I loved the variety of situations and tone; some funny, some sad, some just odd.
The stories were read by many narrators: Ira Glass, Gary Shteyngart, Willem Defoe, Michael Chabon, and others, great readers all.
Yes, absurd and sweet at the same time, that’s Etgar Keret.
That’s a difference between him and Kafka. No sweetness in Kafka.