Monday, January 9, 2012

Author Spotlight | Etgar Keret

Reality takes a backseat when Etgar Keret writes a short story. But in the guise of magic realism, the truth of the matter is very much there, hiding, waiting to jump out from between the lines. Trick is that you have to catch it before the story ends.

Discovering Keret wasn’t difficult. His short story, Creative Writing was published in The New Yorker last week and I found it depressing that I hadn’t heard of him before. So I did a bit of research, code for typing words into Google, read some of his other works and was pleasantly surprised to find that each story was more impressive than the last. Guava is the story of a man whose flight is about to crash and his last wish isn't that his wife and family live in comfortable abundance forever after, but for world peace. Creative Writing is about Maya and three really fantastical worlds she creates in a creative writing class, much to the disdain and curiousity of her husband who starts to take them a tad more seriously than he should. Stupour of Our Time is a narrator's analysis of his father's insistence on voting for political parties that do not get to parliment. It's hilarious, batty and strangely, identifiable with at least one or more members of your own family.  In The Nimrod Flipout, the narrator and his friends, Miron and Uzi go uncontrollaby insane in turns, and blame it on their dead friend Nimrod.

Keret's stories are short... shorter than the usual short, and extremely insane. So obviously I'm in love with him. He's got this rare talent that allows him to establish characters in a limited amount of time despite the length. Of course, there's only one to three characters in each story, so that limits the complexity to a large extent. Does that make him simple to 'get'? Not really. But reading him, somehow, transports you to this world where nothing and no one else really matters but the main character and the path leading down to the climax.

Journalism school aims to teach you a lot of things - check facts, establish integrity, don't commit suicide unless you're in a war zone chasing a story, and hate McJournalism (longer stories presented as short nuggets of information) to name a few.

Keret's stories remind me of this paper I wrote about McJournalism and how shorter news stories (in some cases as long as 250 words and as short as 140 characters) aren't giving the audience the opportunity to understand an incident in a fair and balanced manner. Keret's shorter than shorts did bring this theory back to mind when Creative Writing left me wanting more. Much, much more than another story with another protagonist facing another crisis. So I can see why he wasn't too popular with critics in the start. One columnist went so far as to say he is "not so much of a stylist - you get the impression that he throws three or four of these stories off on the bus to work every morning". But if you're a grown-up who isn't experimenting with illicit substances, you know how difficult it is to imagine something that, well, isn't, no matter how much you enjoy it. So to me this statement is appalling, and a very haphazard judgement to pass because stories as fantastical as these don't get "thrown" on a bus, toilet or even during intense boredom. They're nuggets, yes I said it, of inspiration that come in spurts that must be penned down before they get diluted by distraction or logical thinking.

These shorter than short stories aren't Keret's only source of fame. He's a filmmaker of good repute in Israel (I haven't seen the film yet) and has collaborated on several graphic novels (which I haven't read yet). His website is quite interesting for, you know, an author's website, woven around a theme that reminds me of Phoebe from Friends talking about her song: 'Su-Su-Suicide'. He also writes articles that find their way into The New Yorker, New York Times and The Guardian among others. Indeed, Keret, the storyteller, is definitely someone you should keep an eye on. He's a revelation of sorts, my first revelation for that matter, in the new year.

(India) Buy The Nimrod Flip-Out, a collection of Keret's short stories from

(Everywhere Else) The Nimrod Flipout: Stories on

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