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by Etgar Keret & translated by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston

Pub Date: April 24th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-374-53105-8
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Forty-six stories in a range of tones and styles, from slapstick to surrealism.

The stories vary in length between one and eight pages, and Keret (stories: The Nimrod Flipout, 2006, etc.) is able to squeeze a lot between the covers. Many of his characters are not overburdened by introspective tendencies. There’s Nahum, for example, whose childhood “seemed like a cavity in somebody else’s tooth—unhealthy, but no big deal, at least not to him,” and Mindy, who in answer to her husband’s query (why does she buy “crap” like superglue?) snaps back, “ ‘the same reason I married you…to kill time.’ ” Some stories, like “Hat Trick,” focus on the outré, in this case a magician whose climactic trick is the banal one of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. One day, in front of a bored and diminished audience at a child’s birthday party, he succeeds only in pulling out the rabbit’s bloody head, much to the consternation of the magician but to the delight and enthusiasm of the partygoers. He finds that with this new trick he’s much more in demand. “The Summer of ’76” looks at the serene and happy reality of a child oblivious to most of the craziness surrounding him. “Knockoff Venus” has a nameless narrator who confesses to his therapist that he “needed something I could believe in. A great love that would never go away.” His therapist recommends he get a dog. In “Not Human Beings,” a soldier named Stein tries to put together in some coherent way his impressions of what’s happening in Gaza: “He tried to put all the images together into a single, coherent reality, but he couldn’t.”

Stein’s dilemma is emblematic of Keret’s method: The stories read like fragments of reality—personal, political and even metaphysical. It’s hard to know how to piece them together.