Three terrorists threaten a writer in his living room. They demand of him a story. Frightened, the writer looks around and begins: “Three people are sitting in a room.” The terrorists are not amused. They want fiction, not fact. But producing fiction on demand proves difficult: “It’s hard to think up a story with a barrel of a loaded pistol pointed at your head,” the writer explains.
This short story, which is the first and title story of Etgar Keret’s new collection, sets the agenda for the following 34, all of which expose fiction as we produce it daily: in dreaming and day-dreaming, fantasizing and being delusional, lying, worrying, cursing and being depressed. Among the characters are modern Jewish and non-Jewish figures, such as a Russian immigrant with a glass eye and no arms (13), a Moroccan war veteran who makes his living as a pollster (5), a love-struck American Jewish community worker with a family back home (82), a paranoid Zionist’s son from Russia (119), a Chinese acupuncturist whose wife won’t let him work on Saturdays (67), a German cameraman shooting a report on an Israeli writer (185) and among the terrorists mentioned above, a bearded Swede (3). All are in dire need of stories to survive, beginning with the terrorists, who are willing to kill for their fix. The pressure is on the artist, as a keeper of peace, to stave off trouble by delivering narrative goods. Keret’s answer is conciliatory: in fact, he seems to say to us, if we look closely, we are already producing the stories we need to keep our lives tolerable and our countries safe. (Etgar Keret, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2012.)
Naomi Lubrich, Media