Dog licks man

Etgar Keret’s sane surrealism
By CHARLES TAYLOR  |  June 20, 2006


WEIRD WONDER:   Keret is a deadpan surrealist chronicling the intrusion of the bizarre into the quotidian.
Imagine my embarrassment. I’m on a crowded subway car, people on either side of me, reading Etgar Keret’s new collection of short stories, The Nimrod Flipout. Finishing one story, I turn the page and there, in big block letters, is the next story’s title: “ACTUALLY, I’VE HAD SOME PHENOMENAL HARD-ONS LATELY.” I’m a sophisticated reader, and I try to emulate the black women I see on the subway, blithely reading Zane’s descriptions of sex sororities and amazingly endowed pick-ups. So I settle down to the tale at hand, eager to finish and turn the page, and what do I get? The narrator describing how he awakens to find his beloved terrier licking his morning erection. All I can say is, thank God I was home by the time I got to “THE TITS ON AN EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD.”

The salacious is a great attention getter. (You’ve read this far, haven’t you?) But man-dog affection, and the piggish cab driver who keeps a running commentary on the charms of the young girls on the street, is far less outrageous than what passes for reality in Keret’s stories.

The Israeli author is a deadpan surrealist chronicling the intrusion of the bizarre into the quotidian. And just describing what happens in some of these tales — a man’s girlfriend turns, every night, into a bald potbellied soccer fanatic; devoted parents shrink an inch for every inch their son grows; a booklet advertised in the newspaper teaches humanity the meaning of life for only $9.99; a beloved pet dog keeps coming back from the dead; a beautiful little girl covets the glittering eyes of the grubby, ordinary little boy who’s in love with her — might lead you to expect that Keret’s Twilight-Zone-meets-Looney-Tunes premises are Vonnegut-like disguises for treacly sentimentality. In other words, that he’s not so much strange as cute.

Maybe I should say that I have less patience than anyone I know for the intrusion of the surreal into ostensibly realist fiction. And not everything in The Nimrod Flipout is successful. Some of the stories, no more than tossed-off sketches, aren’t developed. But Keret’s weirdness is never without a recognizable emotional component, and at their best these stories work as elegant metaphors. “Fatso,” about the fellow whose gorgeous girlfriend transforms, Cinderella-like, into a tubby soccer fan, is really about the narrator’s dream of resolving the male-female split by finding all the different sorts of companionship he craves in one partner. “Pride and Joy,” in which parents shrink in inverse proportion to their son’s growth, is an illustration of the parents who live for their kids. Facing the prospect that she and her husband will eventually fade away, the boy’s mother, in one of the great Jewish jokes of all time, says, “Lots of parents are dying to sacrifice everything for their children . . . but not all of them get the chance.” Coo, coo, ca-choo, Mrs. Portnoy.

One of the most affecting tales, “A Good-Looking Couple,” chronicles the course of a one-night stand from the point of view of the man and woman and then from that of the cat, the door, and the television set. Keret transcribes the mind-split experience of impromptu sex, the simultaneous giving into lust and wondering, “What am I doing — and what does it mean?”

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Books , Science and Technology, Technology, Media,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY CHARLES TAYLOR
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   CHARLES JACKSON’S SECOND ACT  |  March 18, 2013
    F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed there were no second acts in American life.
  •   KATE BEYOND TIME: THE KATE MOSS BOOK  |  January 08, 2013
    Almost all models who achieve some degree of fame find themselves blamed for whatever agenda their era's most vocal scold happens to be pushing.
  •   INTERVIEW: NINA HOSS ON BARBARA  |  December 18, 2012
    Quietly over the last 11 years, one of the strongest collaborations in contemporary cinema has been developing between the German director Christian Petzold and the actress he often chooses to star in his films, Nina Hoss. Petzold and Hoss's latest collaboration, Barbara , is their richest and finest film.
  •   SLIDESHOW: THE CHEAP NEAR-THRILLS OF SEXYTIME  |  December 14, 2012
    With porn so privately accessible now, we don't worry about the stigma attached to its consumption, the thought of someone pausing to peruse the art in front of an adult movie theater (hell, the thought of an adult movie theater) instead of just ducking in before being seen is almost touching.
  •   BUNNY YEAGER’S NAKED AMBITION  |  October 05, 2012
    Pin-up photography has served so many purposes — outlet for male desire; outlet for feminist ire; retro kitsch emblem — that it has barely been talked about as photography.

 See all articles by: CHARLES TAYLOR