FLY ALREADY by Etgar Keret (Riverhead Books, 224 pp., $27)
Israeli author Etgar Keret doesn't just produce memorable short stories but short short stories. Some are no longer than 500 words, and five or six pages is typical. As he's done in past collections, "Fly Already" applies magical realism to the angst that claws at the insides of his characters. But this collection features some of the darkest imagery Keret has brought to print to date.
In one story, an old man positions a compressed block of metal — once the car his father drove when he fatally crashed — in his living room. A rich lonely man "buys" the birthdays of strangers in order to feel loved and appreciated. The last story, "The Evolution of a Breakup," is a beautiful dissection of a culture lost in the whirlwind of heady expectations: "We promised ourselves we'd find a job we'd love, and when that didn't work out we settled for a job we didn't hate, and we felt lucky, and then unlucky, and then lucky again."
Keret, who won Israel's prestigious Sapir Prize for this book, plays with reality in ways that are reminiscent of Salman Rushdie but also have a splash of Kurt Vonnegut. "Tabula Rasa" stands out as a speculative story about victims confronting clones of historic figures, including Holocaust survivors who are finally able to get their hands on "Hitler."
A thread running through most of the stories is loss. Divorced fathers struggle to appease their children, love fades from relationships and, in the collection's longest story, the highlight of a cannabis-loving youth worker's day is sharing a joint with a married woman who has no interest in even being his friend. Some stories end with a sharp sting, and others with a more elliptical brush stroke resembling a fade into the sunset.
Keret has the admirable ability to find the poetry in gritty situations swirling with cannabis smoke and sour regrets. This marriage pulls in readers hungry to learn about the human condition and all its messiness.