Take my life. Take my life, please….
Dov Greenstein is on stage in Caesarea—Hello, is this microphone working?—or somewhere, at any rate, any of a hundred dusty Israeli towns, marking time before the spotlights in a tiny bar. “Looks like my agent fucked me again,” he says, and the audience laughs appreciatively. He throws out a few insults, a few jibes, and asks them, “Why are you dumbasses laughing? That joke was about you!” But he’s no Don Rickles, not Dovelah. He’s on the stage, it seems, to work out some personal issues and not a little bit of existential angst. To that end, he’s invited an old friend, Avishai Lazar, a former judge, to attend. Avishai, the narrator, has known Dov since childhood and summer camp, and he’s amazed at the amount of hurt the comedian has stowed away, the better to make jokes out of, perhaps, but enough to keep an army of psychiatrists busy. Besides, there’s some payback in the offing for some long-ago slight: “The sweetness of the revenge I am about to be subjected to,” Avishai thinks. Along the way, Grossman (To the End of the Land, 2010, etc.) unveils scenes from Israeli history and society: through Dov, he jokes that one woman’s hairdo was designed by the same engineer who built the nuclear plant at Dimona, and it’s not long before the Holocaust is dusted off and worked into the bit. The comic patter becomes ever more fraught, ever less funny; as one audience member protests, “People come here to have a good time, it’s the weekend, you wanna clear your head, and this guy gives us Yom Kippur.” Yes, and not a little Freud, too. The book is an assault on the reader, a provocation and a challenge; Grossman takes great risks, but in the end there is reward in a kind of redemption— and in any event, thank the heavens, the bad jokes stop.
Another thoughtful, if odd and caustic, story from one of Israel’s greatest contemporary writers.