This is an utterly fantastic collection. I’ve long been meaning to read some Keret and am so glad that I’ve finally gotten here. He’s capable of doing one of the most challenging things in writing with surprising ease and agility: humor. And not just a smile, but pure laughter, rising on accident, despite suppression and embarrassment at being in public with a bus full of people who don’t speak your language.
He gets there through situations. It’s not a single sentence that makes you laugh, not a one liner kind of thing, but these absurd circumstances and situations that reach this point where nothing can hold back the laughter, especially not the sadness of the characters. And this, I think, is what makes his writing so impressive. He’s not the kind of writer who blows you away with a sublime sentence or even with a singular moment of shocking insight, but he knocks you over laughing, always on the razor, tightroping between tragedy and comedy.
While these are certainly funny stories, there’s so much more to them than funny moments. And though he never tries to capture a life in a single sentence the way so many others do, he reflects life in all its absurd surreality with almost disgusting ease and insight.
I believe that all writers have something small inside them that’s the impetus behind the art. It may be a scene or a sentence or a moment, but it’s there, I think, always, the heart beating in the floor. The humor here, to me, is not a mask, but a lens. It’s the prism through which Keret comes to understand the world, in all its bizarreness. Though the stories are rather short, the characters are the type that tumble off the page, sit beside you when you forget to look.
And there’s a deep sadness in all these stories, characters on the brink of existential crises, imbued with ennui, lost, aimless. These characters are drifters without the drift, locked in stasis. It is this unbearable lightness of being, to steal a phrase and misappropriate it, that’s at the heart of these stories, and why the humor is so essential. These characters are not choosing to keep going, to keep walking despite the pain and the suffering, but just keep going because it seems just as hard to stop, maybe even harder. They accept things, not through rationalisation or through choice, but simply because this new thing is there and to change it is more difficult than to kind of shrug at make room for it.
There’s this feeling that ennui comes and goes with young adulthood, but these characters persist at this stage in life, whether they’re thirty or fifty. They’re caught, unaware of even the trap, and somehow the humor piles around them even as they sink deeper into the mire. These characters are not funny people. They do not make one another laugh, and, I think, it’s what makes their absurd lives so funny, even when it surprises you how funny you’re finding it.
Along with that, there are real tender moments of beauty. The love of a dog, the life of a house, and my favorite: telling a story only to reach a single moment. That last one is summarised by a line within it:
–For three months, a person sits and looks at you, imagining a kiss.–
It’s as if he wrote the whole of the story only to reach that line, and, once reached, the story had to end. And it’s beautiful in its simplicity, in its purity, in its longing. I wrote this story for you because I imagined your kiss, just as the character watches the other for three months only imagining a single kiss.
But, yes, off to track off everything he’s written. Highly recommended.
–A dream is nothing but a strong wish. So strong that you can’t even put it into words.–