An irreverent storyteller who has yet to run out of social norms to skewer.

FLY ALREADY

The Israeli short story writer once again displays his knack for comic, absurd, occasionally dystopian observations.

In 2004, Keret (The Seven Good Years, 2015, etc.) wrote a children’s book called Dad Runs Away With the Circus, a sly tale about a father chafing at the binds of domesticity. He’s still exploring the theme a decade and a half later: The narrator of the title story is trying to save a potential suicide on a nearby rooftop, but his toddler son is clamoring for ice cream while the dad in “To the Moon and Back” promises anything in a candy shop to his son—who then petulantly demands the cash register. (The kids aren’t such great fans of conventional families either: In the gently Kafkaesque “Dad With Mashed Potatoes,” three children are happily convinced their father has shape-shifted into a rabbit.) Keret, who earlier in his career worked more often in flash-fiction mode, benefits from a wider canvas here, particularly in Saunders-esque speculative stories like “Tabula Rasa,” a fable about cloning, or “Ladder,” about the angels left to maintain heaven after God dies. And though Keret has typically eschewed directly addressing tensions in his home country, a number of these stories display the sharp spikes of good political satire, like “Arctic Lizard,” which imagines teenagers recruited for war duty during Trump’s third term. Better still is an untitled story constructed of emails between the director of an escape room who refuses to open his doors on Holocaust Remembrance Day and a stubborn would-be patron; their cartoonishly escalating squabble exemplifies the scramble for the moral high ground that characterizes diplomatic rhetoric. A handful of pieces have flat jokes or weak concepts, but every piece demonstrates Keret’s admirable effort to play with structure and gleefully refuse to be polite about family, faith, and country.

An irreverent storyteller who has yet to run out of social norms to skewer.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59463-327-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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