Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Nimrod Flipout by Etgar Keret

I hadn’t heard of the Israeli writer Etgar Keret until I attended the session on short stories at this year’s PEN World Voices festival. He impressed me with his energy and his strong opinions on the state of the short story (including a wicked parody of the sort of New Yorker story in which nothing much happens but the sentences are beautiful). I picked up The Nimrod Flipout mostly because of a dinner-table rave from Bud Parr (though The Girl on the Fridge apparently doesn’t measure up to that one). As I’d heard, Keret’s stories are very short. (“Dirt,” for instance, is barely a page long.) Many of them work like Kafka’s Metamorphosis, in that one strange thing happens and the routines of life adjust to that thing. Unlike Kafka, though, Keret is determinedly mundane in tone. (It’s doubtful that Kafka would ever write a story called “The Tits on an Eighteen-Year-Old.”) Most of his stories seem to be narrated by the same guy: a young Israeli, not too ambitious, who drinks and smokes quite a bit and whose emotional life is a bit flattened, perhaps by past trauma. But within these limitations, the stories manage to be funny, unsettling, and moving. Despite what Keret said at PEN about his lack of interest in craft, some of the stories are neatly structured. “For Only 9.99 (Inc. Tax and Postage)” is an extended Jewish joke, and “Your Man” (one of my favorites) has the fatedness of Poe or the Brothers Grimm. But there are others, like “My Girlfriend’s Naked,” that simply offer something strange and the narrator’s ruminations over it.

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