By Adam Rovner
At nearly nine pages, "An Exclusive" is the lengthiest story in Etgar Keret's Girl on the Fridge. Perhaps because it's the longest, it's one of my favorites. Keret is known as a stylist of economy, of idiom, and of the manipulation of powerful cultural allusion. "An Exclusive" demonstrates this mastery and control, but also allows the author breathing room to grant his world an ontological depth that is absent in many other tales. In this story we learn what kind of pants the protagonist, Eli, wears (sweatpants), how his ex-girlfriend's hair is styled (in a bob), and how Eli refers to guys who wear glasses (as "four-eyes"). The story presents a fully realized world of personal and political relations, a web permeated by the media and infiltrated by bloody headlines.
And like many Keret stories, "An Exclusive" hints at a world of magic unfulfilled. Eli makes a wish upon a star and when he reveals his wish to his girlfriend, she leaves him. He is a classic Keret anti-hero, a feckless young man who seems perplexed at the ambitions of those around him. His girlfriend, Dafna, walks out on him to become a reporter with a major daily, leaving Eli alone to renovate his apartment: "All women reporters are whores and I was knocking down a wall," he says. They are reluctantly brought together again by Eli's "heroic" actions to stop a knife-wielding murderer. I don't want to spoil the story, so it's enough to let you know that the punchline, so to speak, is embedded within the rhetorical formulas of newspaper reporting. The story smirks at the absurd proximity of brutality and banality by incorporating journalistic transcripts between these two former lovers. Mass culture, with its simultaneous sensationalism and deadpan recital of death, becomes the means for the choked admission of Eli's rage. Much of Keret's work exists under this shadow of mayhem, as does daily Israeli life. But his flash fictions gesture not with the grand sweep of historical indictments, but with a finger pointed to individual failings.
"An Exclusive" first appeared in Keret's 1994 collection Missing Kissinger and showcases the author's characteristically skewed perspective on Israeli reality. At the time, fatal knife attacks against Jews by Palestinians were front page news on a weekly basis. Today, while rockets rain down on civilian areas and the threat of suicide bombings is ever present, Israeli readers might be forgiven for regarding the rash of stabbings in the early 1990s almost with nostalgia. It's nearly impossible to read "An Exclusive" now without a longing, backward glance at the naïve violence the narrative depicts. Given the story's themes of regret, missed opportunities, and wishful thinking, perhaps this is as it should be.
Links to other essays, blog posts and interviews in this series:
Keret events this March in Boston and Chicago.
Adam Rovner puts Etgar Keret in context.
Miriam Shlesinger talks about translating Keret.
Phillip Lopate discusses the roots of Keret's work.
Adam Rovner on Reading Keret: Front Line of the Hyperreal.
Nicolle Elizabeth reports on our Keret event at the Idlewild bookstore.
Photos from the event.
Adam Rovner interviews Etgar Keret
The video from the Idlewild Event
The Art of Big Things: Todd Hasak-Lowy on Reading Keret
My Favorite Keret Story, from Bud Parr
Translating the Funhouse: Adam Rovner on Reading Keret
Moshe Ron and Hannan Hever discuss finding Etgar Keret.
Resources for further reading (and viewing) on Etgar Keret.
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