Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret, translated by Miriam Shlesinger, Sondra Silverston, and Nathan Englander
In spite of quite the impressive creative output including on the page (books, graphic novels, articles) and on celluloid (as both writer and director), I discovered Etgar Keret because of a house – the narrowest house (four feet at its widest!) in the world, wedged in between an apartment building and a postwar co-op in what was once the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. When the architect, Jakub Szczęsny, imagined the perfect occupant for such a limited space, he thought of Keret because of his very short stories (which marked him as “someone accustomed to working within tight parameters”), as well as his Jewish Polish connections. You can read that house story here, and then discover 35 Keret stories (in less than 200 pages!) in this, his latest collection.
If Door is any indication, Keret’s writing surely defies easy categorization. Robbie finds a hole in the ground in which he can meet the incarnations of his many lies. Orit has to identify the body of a stranger who happens to be her husband even though she’s not married. Miron spends his mornings in a café meeting random people who mistake him for someone else. Ella unzips one lover to find another inside. A black man, a white woman, and a yellow priest confront a silvery, disabled God. Oshri the insurance salesman didn’t have any of his own when a man fell on his head. Ari’s girlfriend only sleeps with men named Ari.
Based on that 1/5 sampling of the collection, words like quirky, zany, wacky, might suffice. But then Keret will surprise you with wrenching: a man commits suicide over unrequited love; a newly widowed woman would rather open her restaurant to be with strangers than mourn alone. He offers even a few glimpses of the almost-mundane: a father who gives in to his willful young son; a woman who plans her husband’s 50th birthday surprise party for which only three near-strangers show up. And then there’s the personal favorite: a documentary filmmaker collecting answers about a talking goldfish which grants three wishes gets inadvertently murdered by a Russian immigrant whose … uh … talking goldfish convinces him to make a final wish.
To read is to believe, even that which your brain might deem impossible. Keret offers quite the mind-boggling, head-scratching, heart-cracking literary trip, provided in convenient segments just right for our overstimulated, deficit-ed attention spans. Go ahead, answer that knock … let your unexpected journey begin.
Tidbit: Ironically enough, I did not stick Keret’s Door in my ears. I think I really missed something: the stories are read “by an all-star cast” including Ira Glass, Willem Dafoe, Michael Chabon, Nicole Krauss, and Nathan Englander (who also translated some of the stories!)! WOWOWOW! You can currently tune in to a few of the recordings on the homepage of Keret’s website. No clue how long those links will be available, so take advantage now!
Tidbit2: Talk about timing! This came through on my Twitter feed this morning – a five-foot wide house in Manhattan known as the “Spite House,” the story of which could even be a Keret creation!
Published: 2012 (United States)