A bestselling Israeli author and TV comedy writer draws from previous story collections to introduce himself to an American readership
It isn't hard to see why a US publisher might think there would be a market for Keret’s fiction here: The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God is a veritable compilation of fashionable bad-writing tricks, with a level of humor that suggests Israeli sitcoms are not appreciably more clever than their American counterparts. The author uses a vaguely punk minimalist style, drawing tediously on “like,” “you know,” and by-now-stale scatology to mimic the voice of young urban anomie, but Keret can't hide a depressingly conventional sentimentality (or a certain smarmy misogyny) behind the fake toughness of his prose. The stories are mostly constructed around facile ironies and comedy clichés. “Rabin's Death” tells of a street fight precipitated by the fact that the narrator's cat, run over by a motorcyclist, is named for the late Israeli prime minister. The title piece is about a loser whose life is changed for the worse when the bus driver in question commits a unique act of charity. The protagonist of “Missing Kissinger” is torn between his demanding girlfriend and his overbearing Jewish mother, each of whom expects him to cut out the other’s heart. Even the novella, “Kneller's Happy Campers,” the only substantial work here as well as the only new one, is fairly threadbare: a first-person tale of the special afterlife reserved for suicides, said afterlife bearing a depressing resemblance to the hellish real-life world of suburbia. All of these pieces are rendered with a tiresome flatness that even the skilled translators cannot resuscitate.
Hey, Etgar, don't give up the day job.