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Suddenly, a Knock on the Door: Stories

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door: Stories - Etgar Keret Keret really only tells one story: Normal people react to the events of lives which are normal except for one uncanny circumstance. But sometimes the stories are more about the uncanny circumstance, in which case they're funnier and shorter and slighter, and sometimes they're more about the normal people, in which case they can be more tedious, even leaden, as leaden as a 4-page tale can be.When they really work, though, they're about both, and we learn not only the entertaining details of the unusual circumstance but also insights, perhaps even profound, into the human heart. That's what we get in "Lieland" (which lends the cover illustration its image of a gumball machine—this one, though, opens the door to the realm where everyone's lies come true) and "What, of This Goldfish, Would You Wish?" (the source of the cover's goldfish, though this one talks and grants wishes), as well as a few others like "Healthy Start," "Creative Writing," and "Bad Karma."Most of the time Keret's shortest pieces are closer to comedy shticks, all about timing, voice, and the punch line. They're good as comedy but they don't have the narrative structure or character development of a real story. They're short-shorts: they deal with types the reader already knows and rely on our assumptions as a shorthand for plot. They're well crafted according to the rules of that genre, but not really pushing the envelope either. A few of them, like "Joseph" and "Guava," hide their human meaning in the punch line, which must be deliberate and must take skill, but it seems perverse of a writer to bury the hook like that. I guess the point might be that real life buries the hook, too, and we often laugh when we should gasp or cry, or vice versa.Keret's writing (as rendered by three different translators in this volume) is plain, direct, approachable. Most of the time we can't tell whether we're in Israel or New York, and it usually doesn't matter: these are stories about people in general, not about a specific culture. That above all makes the volume a very quick read, and lets you move through fast enough to laugh first and only later consider the implications of what you were laughing about. It also means, as I've (post–writers' conference) started reading short stories to get a better idea of how they work, that I'll hunt down Keret's other collections and gobble them up too.