Review: Fly Already

Etgar Keret is a master of melancholy, but also of terror, says David Herman


Fly Already: Stories by Etgar Keret (Granta, £12.99)

Now in his 50s, Israel writer Etgar Keret has written five best-selling books of short stories and a number of screenplays.The son of Polish Holocaust survivors, his career took off with his second collection, Missing Kissinger, in 1994. It introduced his distinctive treatment of dark subjects in a light-hearted fashion.

In Fly Already, the stories, conveyed into English by a quintet of five prominent translators, are certainly dark. The title story is about a man who attempts suicide. Others deal with loneliness abortion, suicide again, and the Holocaust (one story is set in Yad Vashem).

There is a set of exchanges between two men -- Michael Warshavski wants to schedule a visit with his mother to someone’s escape room but the owner replies that this is impossible because the escape room is closed because of Holocaust Remembrance Day. The e-mail exchange continues, getting ever darker and more acrimonious.

Keret was born in Ramat Gan and now lives and teaches in Tel Aviv but there is only a couple of passing references in Fly Already to Israeli politics and society. Keret is more interested in ordinary lives, those of young and middle-aged Israelis and Americans. It feels very hip and happening: his characters take soft drugs, drink organic soya milk lattes and go on Tinder for casual sex.

This is more Tel Aviv than Jerusalem and more Middle America than either.

There are few references to Judaism (though one story, Ladder, is about angels) and, apart from the exchange about the escape room and the Yad Vashem story, the Holocaust is largely absent (there’s something else in another story but this would give too much away). Keret’s writing is much more focused on unhappy couples, usually seen from the man’s point of view.

And his writing is what is really thrilling in this book. The prose is clever, the tone cool and often funny. The plots twist and turn, full of postmodern trickery. What is the compressed metal block doing in someone’s living room? What’s happened to Mickey’s memory and why is he confined in this empty room? Who is the young Chinese billionaire crying at a rich man’s funeral? The revelations and endings of these stories are simply brilliant.

Keret has a terrific turn of phrase. The homeless and passers-by, he writes, “speak to each other politely; don’t look each other in the eye; don’t ask for names; and don’t give more than twenty dollars.” One narrator, a soldier, writes: “I open the e-mail the way you turn over the body of a terrorist who might be strapped with explosives: slowly and carefully.” A young mother stops at the drugstore for the Pill, “so she doesn’t accidentally have another spoiled brat.” The sting is in that word, “another”.

But what makes Keret “completely unlike any writer”— according to Salman Rushdie — is the way he moves between sadness and menace. He is a master of melancholy, telling of lonely, divorced men, but also of terror. Is the narrator a loser, or is he a psychopath? You read on, nervously, to find out. And then comes the twist.

David Herman is a senior JC reviewer

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive