Suddenly, a Knock on the Door
- Etgar Keret
- Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- 188 pp.
- Reviewed by Alexis Akre
- May 30, 2012
A collection of bare-bones short stories that manipulate readers’ emotions with shocking bursts of painful human experiences.
Review by Alexis Akre
Etgar Keret is surely the current paragon of the short-short (or micro-fiction, or flash fiction, or whatever you want to call it). He writes with a clear intention and meaning even if that meaning is occasionally too buried in brevity, this being the nature of the short-short story. Where others can be beguiling in this elusive form, Keret attempts to pack in as much concrete story as he can. Sometimes the harshness of his stories is surprising. Sometimes they smack you with bleakness and hesitant humor. Sometimes it's about getting your arm up fast enough to block what's coming before it kills you. But these tales reward with intensity. They depict sharp human experience through a visceral, corporeal language. His new collection, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door, is a collage of interior pain and real physical danger.
Etgar Keret delighted the literary world a few years back with his collection of stories, The Nimrod Flipout. He received praise for this hilarious, terse, often surprising set of vignettes. His new collection reasserts his skill and his humanity. The title story abruptly brings us into his world, a live narration of a hostage scene. The hostage has been ordered to provide a story. The scene doesn’t so much unfold as fill up with more hostage takers. With every story-opening knock at the door yet another dubious character asserts his demands, further choking the hostage-narrator and propelling inevitable absurdity. This clever opening lets the reader know that the subsequent stories have been extracted by demand. And that the narrator resents this. But the story also informs the reader that the notions of guilt, fault, cause, and effect are all subject to serious review. From here out nothing is as simple as who deserves the resentment uttered in the first story: “But the situation is fundamentally different. Because my son doesn’t have a beard, or a pistol. Because my son asked for the story nicely, and this man is simply trying to rob me of it.”
Some of the following stories have the urgency of having been ripped, stolen from Keret’s clutch. There is a visceral quality to his writing. We are often thrust into a scene or a thought in a blunt, even (intentionally) artless manner with no defense for the oncoming conclusion, the crushing loneliness, self-doubt, jealousies of existence.
Suddenly, A Knock on the Door is stocked with immaculate and quotidian tableaus. And then they are gone. Often violently removed. It feels brutal. The experience of reading this book is that of nervously turning the page, knowing disaster lurks with a smile, a gleeful smile, though not smug nor ironic. At every turn, every knock, something hauls off and whacks you. This is the point, it would seem. Dark humor is not enough; pathos does not cut it. Absurdity is a cop-out. Violence seems to be the answer: self violence, random abduction, falling bodies, falling planes. This is a dangerous world. On the other hand there is a tenderness in all the gore. Keret exposes a deep human insecurity, a desperate desire to connect with others, but all the while the others are always strangers, even or especially if you know them, even if they are you. This can be a bit exhausting. Especially when it's coming in these short bursts. But then, the multiplicity of all this sadness is what Keret seems to be happily reporting. In the end we’re not concerned with nursed jealousies here; we want to get back to the amygdala, to our common fears.
Alexis Akre is a writer and book seller in Brooklyn, N.Y.