I laughed while listening to two radio interviews with Israeli author Etgar Keret. I like writers who are shamelessly proud of their work, but accessible. A bit humble. Not too much, though. Anyway, that’s how he sounded to me in his interviews. I bought his new book (new in the U.S.) of short stories, Suddenly, A Knock On The Door. I didn’t imagine that a book of short stories would be a page-turner, but I jumped from one story to the next. I wanted them to keep going forever.
Before I started to read the book, though, I had also picked up John Irving’s new novel, In One Person, while at the bookstore. Yes, I still go to those. I intend to visit them until they entirely disappear, but I digress. I have fallen in and out of love with John Irving over the years, but I’ve always loved his prose. So, before I started the paperback I thought I should pay homage to a sometimes favorite author. It just seemed fair to choose an author I had a previous relationship with before delving into a paperback by an unknown (to me) that I’d only heard on the radio. I know this must seem odd, imagining relationships with authors I’ve never met, but that’s how I feel about writers—that I’m in a relationship with them while I’m reading their stories. Anyway, I started the Irving novel and immediately found it so detailed I got a headache. The writing is beautiful; there were just too many long sentences. It felt obsessive. I’m guessing that’s the point of the story, but I wasn’t in the mood for it. I will read this book soon.
From the first page of Suddenly, A Knock At The Door I was in. I don’t know how he does it (and this book is a translation from the original Hebrew) but the language seemed so fresh, so uncomplicated. So new. And the writer’s imagination is wildly plausible even when he’s writing about a woman finding a zipper in her lover’s mouth, unzipping it and finding a whole new man inside. Well, it seemed believable to me.
The stories are hilarious, and sad. Every human dilemma, every “what if” and “why not?” Etgar Keret poses is relatable. I mean, who hasn’t had the experience of someone holding a gun on you, demanding that you tell a story? It seems to me that every “knock on the door” brings some demand to perform.
But why Etgar Keret and not John Irving? Why this, not that? Storytelling has so much to do with tapping into where readers’ minds are, how they are listening, how they are speaking, how they are feeling. For whatever reason, Etgar Keret told me stories that felt incredibly relevant to me. One of my favorites titled, The Story, Victorious, begins, “This story is the best story in the book. More than that, this story is the best story in the world.” It goes on in its boastful, funny way. Readers win cars, a panel of experts has decreed this “the best story,” and while reading (and laughing) I thought of that moment when I’m writing and I absolutely know that I’m creating the best story in the world. If I didn’t think it, I wouldn’t write it. It’s a momentary illusion, but a necessary one.
Near the close of The Story, Victorious, the narrator describes one last unique attribute that qualifies the story as the best. “Because this story doesn’t just tell, it also listens. Its ears, as they say, are attuned to every stirring of the public’s heart.” Maybe that’s why I like this book. It felt like it was listening to me. Ever felt that way?
If you’re curious, here’s the The Story, Victorious and The Story, Victorious 2, read by Nathan Englander