‘Evolution of a Breakup’ by Etgar Keret

Perhaps my favourite short story. The sequence of events leading to the separation of a married couple is traced from the beginning of life on earth. To say any more would be to ruin it, and I wouldn’t know what to say in any case. No matter how many times I read it, I can’t quite put into words why this single-paragraph, two-page miracle of prose has such a devastating hold on me.

Collected in Fly, Already, Granta, 2010

‘Healthy Start’ by Etgar Keret, translated by Miriam Schlesinger

Humour combined with deep seriousness is not easy to write, but one writer that does it well is Etgar Keret. While I usually prefer listening to Keret read his own stories in his distinctive Israeli accent, I first heard this story read by the actor John Conlee who reads it well. ‘Healthy Start’ is a story about the pleasure of pretending to be someone else, which is a story that particularly appeals to me as a writer. What if you went to a cafe every morning and pretended to be that person that another has come to meet— anything from a business acquaintance to a lover. This is the premise of a wonderfully imaginative and at times very funny story. The fact that the author was once mistaken to be somebody else in a cafe and considered playing along, is an interesting meta story to this story.

First published in English in Tin House, Vol 8, No. 2, 2008. Available to read online at Litro magazine. Collected in Pitʹom Dfika Ba-Delet, Zmora-Bitan, 2010, and in translation in Suddenly, a Knock at the Door, FSG, 2012. Hear it read online here.

‘Crazy Glue’ by Etgar Keret

Israeli writer Etgar Keret has become well known for his very dark and surreal stories dealing with what often characterizes life in Israel – where I lived for many years – from terror attacks to military service. His is a bizarre humour, which is what is often needed to cope when living in strange times and violent, unstable situations. This story, one of his most anthologized, is ostensibly about a marriage, about loss of love, and what happens when everything is turned upside down.

But, like all the stories here, and perhaps like the majority of stories we tell and are told, it’s really about the mystery of The Other  – how we have so very little understanding of what goes on in our own heads let alone another person’s. Isn’t it a miracle when we manage to connect at all, those crazy moments where you and I are right there, laughing at the same thing, looking directly at each other, seeing each other for the first time? Isn’t it, though.

In Suddenly, A Knock on the Door (Chatto & Windus, 2012) and available to read online here