“Suddenly, A Knock on the Door” by Etgar Keret (2010) – 188 pages
There is a simple test to determine whether or not you should read “Suddenly, A Knock on the Door” by Etgar Keret. If you really like Woody Allen movies, go ahead and read “Suddenly, A Knock on the Door”; you will enjoy it immensely. If you do not like Woody Allen movies, forget about it; you have little chance of liking this book. I’ve been a big fan of Woody Allen movies from the start.
Both Etgar Keret and Woody Allen are unrestrainedly inventive not only about story situations, but also about people. Keret is probably even more outrageous and playful than Allen. This is no slam against Woody Allen, because Etgar Keret probably would never have the stamina to finish a long movie. Etgar Keret’s strong suit is the short short story from two pages to about seven pages. What Etgar Keret can do in a few pages is a miracle.
In the story ‘Lieland’ a man named Robbie sees all the lies he told starting from when he was seven years old come true when he is an adult. At seven he told his mother that the money she gave him to pick up a pack of cigarettes at the corner store had been stolen by a giant red-headed kid with a missing front tooth who tackled him in the street. Actually Robbie used the money to buy an ice cream cone for himself. Later when Robbie is an adult, guess what?, a giant red-headed kid tackles him and takes his money.
In Etgar Keret stories, the devil is in the details. Here a killer for hire justifies his contract killings of little kids in the story ‘One Step Beyond’.
“And Maximillian Sherman and my righteous jurors can twist up their faces until the cows come home, but taking the life of a bulimic twenty-six-year-old student majoring in gender studies, or a sixty-eight-year-old limousine driver who fancies a bit of poetry on the side, that’s no more or no less all right than snuffing out the life of a runny-nosed three-year-old.”
I suppose it was my many years of reading Mad Magazine that helped me to appreciate these off-the-wall short short stories.
In a long story near the end of “Suddenly A Knock at the Door’ called ‘Surprise Party’, Keret achieves not only humor but also an uncomfortable poignance as a wife plans a huge birthday party for her husband, then only his dentist, his insurance agent, and the manager of his bank show up. Several of the stories have a human twist that takes them beyond comedy into the realm of feeling.
Etgar Keret is already a writing star in Israel. Now it is time for Keret’s outlandish sense of humor and emotion to be discovered here. Some have compared Etgar Keret to Franz Kafka, calling his writing ‘Kafkaesque’. Keret’s stories certainly have that quality of the absurd associated with Kafka, but I expect that Keret’s stories are more accessible to modern readers. If you are looking for stories that are wildly original and humorous and emotional at the same time, you can’t go wrong by reading Etgar Keret’s stories.