A world in which haem­or­rhoids can be he­roes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Mal­colm Forbes

IS­RAEL’S finest short story writer, Et­gar Keret, re­turns with an­other richly in­ven­tive col­lec­tion. It is his fifth, and his first in 10 years. At first glance it seems busi­ness as usual — tightly com­pressed lit­tle tales in which the ab­surd reg­u­larly and ri­otously rubs shoul­ders with the ab­surd — but the more we read, the more hid­den depths we dis­cover. One can only as­sume Keret has spent the past decade honing his craft be­cause this se­lec­tion is eas­ily his best to date.

Each story thrives from its sur­re­al­ism. In Lieland a com­pul­sive liar wit­nesses all the lies he has told come true. In Un­zip­ping a woman finds a zip in her lover’s mouth, and when she opens it a new man steps out. Pick a Colour fea­tures God get­ting mugged by a gang of golden gods hell­bent on break­ing ‘‘ ev­ery bone in His divine body’’. And in the epony­mous ti­tle tale a writer is held at gun­point in his home and or­dered to tell a story, one that is a far cry from re­al­ity: ‘‘ Use your imag­i­na­tion, man, cre­ate, in­vent, take it all the way.’’ This might as well be Keret’s man­i­festo. This and that unique brand of hu­mour. ‘‘ I bet things like this never hap­pen to Amos Oz or David Gross­man,’’ the be­sieged writer-pro­tag­o­nist tells him­self, re­fer­ring to two of Is­rael’s best-known writ­ers. Later, in Simyon, two of­fi­cers squab­ble over the way one has in­formed a woman about the death of her hus­band. ‘‘ This is my first,’’ the younger one says de­fen­sively. ‘‘ I’m still train­ing.’’

Of­ten we see the jokes com­ing, like a tele­graphed punch, but at other times Keret floors us with the un­ex­pected, any­thing from sly, caus­tic wit to the most scabrous chutz­pah. In Team­work a son ap­peals to his fa­ther to hit his cruel babysit­ter ‘‘ harder than hard’’. Keret makes us wait for his punch­line: the babysit­ter is Grandma.the mar­vel­lously ti­tled Ac­tu­ally, I’ve Had Some Phe­nom­e­nal Hard-ons Lately starts out as a Philip Roth-flavoured sex satire be­fore swerv­ing off on a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive route in­volv­ing a hunt for a lost dog. As if an­tic­i­pat­ing us writ­ing it off as a shaggy-dog story, Keret plays a final trick and has the dog im­part tax ad­vice to its owner. Our ex­pec­ta­tions are top­pled once more in a de­vi­ous lit­tle story, Haem­or­rhoid, where the haem­or­rhoid is the

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