Etgar Keret, young hot shot author from Israel, has a razor-sharp
voice barbed with sarcastic wit, surprising turns of phrase, and a
style reminiscent of David Foster Wallace's BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH
HIDEOUS MEN. Keret bolsters these gifts with a tremendous
imagination that allows him to rethink cultural markers and myths
to create unique landscapes for the characters in THE BUS DRIVER
WHO WANTED TO BE GOD AND OTHER STORIES to occupy. Some of those
landscapes are familiar; others sparkle in their originality.
Keret is also always up for a narrative risk. Take for example this
message to the reader of the title story: "The best thing would be
to stop reading here..." Of course, you can't stop reading there,
or anywhere else in this collection, because Keret keeps each story
moving with his wisecracks and unique world view.
He can also be serious, however, without losing his voice. In a
story entitled "Shoes," for example, a young Israeli listens
intently to a lecture from a Holocaust survivor about the
importance of avoiding German–made products and then finds a
unique way to rationalize the wearing of Adidas tennis shoes.
"Siren," about another adolescent facing a difficult moral choice,
finds its resolution in a cultural feature of life in Israel that
is both moving and --- for an American audience ---
Keret is a master of surprise endings, offering up shocking
conclusions to stories like the oddly titled "Missing Kissinger"
and "Plague of the Firstborn," both very effective stories whose
plots cannot be discussed in a review. "Plague of the Firstborn,"
with its retelling of the Biblical Egyptian plague story from an
Egyptian's point of view, is one of the collections strongest
efforts and demonstrates Keret's ability to take familiar ideas and
turn them on their head.
He does the same in "A Souvenir of Hell," in which the nether world
is recreated as a place from which the damned can take an
"There's this village in Uzbekistan that was built right smack at
the mouth of Hell. The soil there isn't any good for farming, and
the minerals aren't too great either, so whatever small income the
inhabitants can earn to make ends meet comes mostly from
tourism...The tourism I'm talking about is domestic. As domestic as
you can get."
Keret's imaginings of the afterlife don't stop with "A Souvenir of
Hell." Indeed, the crowning jewel of the collection is the final
story --- a novella really --- entitled "Kneller's Happy Campers,"
in which people who have killed themselves go on living in a kind
of purgatory where they bear the marks of their suicidal methods.
In the opening capture, Keret serves up as compelling a description
of the afterlife as you're likely to find:
"Two days after I killed myself I found a job here at some pizza
joint. It's called Kamikaze, and it's part of a chain...[W]henever
they used to sound off about life after death and go through the
whole is-there-isn't-there routine, I never thought about it one
way or the other. But I'll tell you this much: even when I thought
there was, I'd always imagine these beeping sounds, like a
fuzz-buster, and people floating around in space and stuff. But now
that I'm here, I don't know, mostly it reminds me of Tel Aviv. My
roommate, the German, says this place could just as well be
Frankfurt. I guess Frankfurt's a dump, too."
While "Kneller's Happy Campers" doesn't end as strongly as it
begins, it is a fine showcase for what Keret can do in a somewhat
longer format. Short or long, however, Keret consistently delivers
the goods in a voice all his own.
Reviewed by Rob Cline (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 21, 2011
The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God and Other Stories