The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God and other stories by Etgar Keret


Having loved a previous book of short stories by the Israeli writer Etgar Keret, I read this one. I found the previous collection to be  fantastical, like Kafka, but more whimsical and occasionally quite sweet. While also fantastical, this one is darker in tone and more disturbing.

In the title story the bus driver's ideology motivates him not to open the door to bus riders who arrive late at their stop. 

The driver's ideology said that if, say, the delay that was caused by opening the door for someone who came late was just under thirty seconds, and if not opening the door meant that this person would wind up losing fifteen minutes of his life, it would still be more fair to society, because the thirty seconds would be lost by every single passenger on the bus. And if there were, say, sixty people on the bus who hadn't done anything wrong, and had all arrived at the bus stop on time, then together they'd be losing half an hour, which is double fifteen minutes. This was the only reason why he'd never open the door.

So he calculates as Jeremy Bentham would. But he made an exception twice in one day for a hapless fellow named Eddie. The bus driver's first choice in life was to become God and so when Eddie fell to his knees outside the bus, having missed the bus and chased it to a traffic light, the bus driver opened the door for him. He had wanted to become a kindly merciful God and as his second choice, bus driver, he was able to be kind to poor Eddie.

Most of the stories are very short, just a few pages, but one is nearly 100 pages, about half of the length of the book. "Kneller's Happy Campers" has 26 chapters and tells the post-death activities of people who have "offed" themselves. The stories of their "adventures" are told in a chatty, off-handed way. 

By the time it got dark, I'd found a bar–an OK place called Stiff Drinks. The music wasn't bad either–not exactly up to date, but with character, and lots of girls chilling on their own. On some of them you could tell straight off how they did it, with the scars on their wrists and everything, but there were some who looked really good.

The ones who looked really good because they had offed themselves with poison or pills were called Juliets. I recounted two funny terms here and they are the most memorable bits of humor. Otherwise, I found this long story a painful slog.

Etgar Keret, The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God and other stories, originally published by Toby Press, 2004, trans. by Mariam Schlesinger and others, Riverhead Books, 2015, 198 pages (I read the kindle version). Available at UVa library and from Amazon. 

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