Life's little idiosyncrasies

The voice of young Israel, Etgar Keret maintains his universal humor and witty edge in English translation.

keret book 88 298 (photo credit: )
keret book 88 298
(photo credit: )
The Nimrod Flipout: Stories By Etgar Keret Translated by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston Farrar, Straus and Giroux 176pp., $12 The first time I read The Nimrod Flipout was on an airplane from Tel Aviv to Toronto. Having enjoyed the writing, I loaned it to two of my sisters upon arrival. Within days, I was informed that I'd be returning to Israel without the book. And so it was with great excitement that, during a recent visit to my editor, I espied the new rendition of Etgar Keret's short stories collection in a pile of "books to be reviewed." Keret's stories are short, funny, sad and thought-provoking. They are as good the first time perused as on repeated reads. From the opening story, "Fatso," through to the last tale, "Himme," the reader will find clever and fresh perceptions on sex, adolescence, family, romantic relationships and friendships. Above all, the reader will be treated to snappy chronicles of life in contemporary Israel. It is no wonder that Keret has long been hailed as the voice of young Israel. The 39-year-old delivers faultless accounts of what it is to be young in this country. He explores themes of identity, war, love and urban alienation. His stories are all strange, and it is through their weirdness that Keret is able to relate life's idiosyncrasies. In "Fatso," the plot is a parody of a werewolf tale about a man who discovers that his girlfriend changes into a vulgar soccer fan after dark. A closer reading of the tale divulges Keret's analyses of identity and love. Suicide and urban alienation are also two important themes in his collection. Keret's best friend killed himself while they were in the army together, and the author has repeatedly told interviewers that he always felt like an outsider while growing up. Moreover, Keret is fond of pointing out that his name, ironically, means "city challenge" ("etgar" means challenge; "keret" means city), or urban challenge. In Nimrod Flipout, Keret tells of three friends who are each possessed by their friend Nimrod, who committed suicide while in the army. The story is not morose but rather about feeling out of place within society. In "Dirt," he presents suicide wryly, like just another option of many. This story is at once about death and at the same time about love. Characters in his works also include a talking fish, a dog that refuses to die, a man in a bottle and a father named "Hello." Keret chooses his words carefully. His longest story ("Himme") is 19 pages, while his shortest ("Malfunction") is just under one page. Most of his bite-sized satirical tales run three to four pages in length. Not a single word is superfluous. He excels in his ability to seem straightforward and casual, but as the stories progress shows that his writing is packed with witticisms and sharp commentary. Many of the stories are tragicomic, and though the reader knows a punch line is hiding in his words, Keret surprises every time. To date, Keret has published four books of short stories, one novella, three books of comics, and a children's book, as well as two feature screenplays. His works have been translated into more than 20 languages. Over 40 short films have been based on his stories, and the most recent film adaptation of Keret's work, called Wristcutters: A Love Story (based on his novella Kneller's Happy Campers), was highly complimented at the Sundance Film Festival in January. And while Keret has many fans, he also has a good number of detractors. He has been denounced by the Knesset as an anti-Semite; has been publicly condemned for using curse words and writing about violence and sex; and has been chided by other Israeli literary bigwigs for sidelining politics and instead focusing on personal problems in his works. His words may be concise but the messages he tackles are complex and heartfelt. The Nimrod Flipout is a highly entertaining and edgy collection that truly captures the craziness of life in Israel today.