Almost all of the thirty (very) short stories in Etgar Keret's wonderfully vivid collection, The Nimrod Flipout, take place against backdrops that are deceptively banal. Each site, though, eventually reveals a rupture, a tear in its seeming ordinariness through which the perverse, bizarre or fantastic is oozing in.
Tremendously popular in his native Israel, Keret has consistently voiced a desire for his stories to explore and engender ambiguity and to challenge aspects of life that have sadly been reified by time and are now considered objective reality; embracing flux, nuance, and contradiction-the messes and gray areas of human experience-is this author's acknowledged aim.
"Most moral statements that you can make, people know them already," he recently said in an interview. "If I make signs that say, 'Killing people is bad. Stop raping women. You should be ashamed of yourself,' I'm not giving people any new information. But if you can confuse them and introduce some ambiguity to their point of view-that's the best you can do. And if it doesn't help, at least it will make us feel better."
Keret's overarching belief that the writer's role is to tangle and tarnish the lazy, oversimplified terms of political and cultural debate comes across in a number of the stories in The Nimrod Flipout. Most of Keret's characters are caught in uncomfortable moments of transmutation, indecision and ugliness. "Fatso," for instance, traces one man's effort to come to terms with the fact that his girlfriend transforms each night from her usual lovely self into a "heavy, hairy man" with a penchant for nightlife, big dinners and televised soccer matches. "Shooting Tuvia" features a vicious but loyal dog who returns to his master, despite having been shot at close range by the master's angry father. And in the most touching of the stories, "Pride and Joy," a boy's parents shrink as he grows taller. The boy, panicked, tries in vain to stunt his own growth, hoping he can stop them from getting smaller. Hilariously literalizing the myth of overbearing Jewish parents, the story ends with the boy's eight-inch mother and father accompanying him (in his shirt pocket) on an awkward first date, offering advice in overloud whispers and weeping with joy after the boy scores his first kiss.
But neither his absurdist leanings nor his playful melancholy ever make him appear merely a clever fabulist. This collection proves that he is, fundamentally, if slightly cynically, engaged in broader philosophical inquiry; his journey, and his questions, feel very personal, very humble, and, fortunately for the reader, very funny.
Nina Renata Aron is a freelance writer and a graduate student at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.