Friday, December 30, 2005

People are talking about Etgar Keret

A good short story can be like a bomb going off in the middle of one’s life. It can also be, as Walter Mosley has said, like a small gem, perfectly cut to expose every facet of an idea, which is in turn illuminated by ten thousand tiny shafts of light. Either way, good fiction loosens up structures, finds gaps in the mundane, taking the ordinary and turning it on its head, not turning away from the difficulties of our world, but taking the reader in and showing them moments of undoing, moments of transformation and release. This is the kind of fiction I’m interested in. It is fiction where the author has plucked moments from here, and there, and plunked them on a new canvas, dripping with wetness. It is fiction where the author has taken the predictable—the moment of confession, the moment of deepening intimacy in a new relationship, and upended it. This is the kind of work Etgar Keret produces.

In the last ten years Etgar Keret has published four books of short stories and novellas, two graphic novels and two feature plays. His most recent collection of short stories include The Busdriver Who Wanted to be God (2001, Saint-Martin's Press) and The Nimrod Flipout (2004, Picador). Keret’s books have been awarded the Book Publishers Association Platinum Book Prize for selling more than 40,000 copies. His movie, Skin Deep, won the Israeli Oscar as well as first prize at several international film festivals. Etgar has also received the Prime Ministers Prize for literature and the Ministry of Culture Cinema Prize.Brief and intense, Etgar's stories are empathic snapshots that illuminate with probing intelligence, the hidden truths of life. He is often described as an Israeli Paul Auster, but he’s more Lydia Davis or Sheila Heti with his wide-ranging subject matter, his dead-pan delivery and imaginative turns, with his precise and often unforgiving visual detail. In Crazy Glue, for instance, which takes a central image and uses it to offer a mediation on the delusion and fragmentation of the modern relationship.

I had the pleasure of introducing and interviewing Keret last year in a gallery in Tribeca. We stood beside a model of an atomic bomb that gave an intense smoky vibration to an already electrified room. One of the things that struck me about our conversation was this kind of casual intensity. Yes, a bomb might go off but meanwhile there’s a latte to drink and you know, we’re getting hungry…risks. Big ones. That’s what makes good fiction.

On the other hand, good fiction is often not recognized right away. It takes awhile, as it has with Keret. But now that The New Yorker and The Paris Review have published him, I'm sure he'll be everywhere at once. And rightly so. My two favourite Keret stories are available online: Crazy Glue and Fatso. Hey Canada, Random House is publishing The Nimrod Flipout next year.

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