I don’t know that much about Etgar Keret, a very popular and well respected Israeli short story writer and film maker. I saw him on a panel last summer at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, and remember enjoying listening to him, but could not tell you what he said. I had read only one short story which, frankly, did not excite me very much.
But when he was scheduled to speak as part of the Nextbook series at the DCJCC, I wanted to hear him, without knowing exactly why.
It was a terrific evening, as Keret (with his sloppy dress and sloppier hair) is perfectly engaging, interesting, and, in particular, funny. His story, for example, about how he was told while he was in the Israeli army that he was the worst soldier that ever served, which he said he knew was not the case, because he had an older brother who was a worse soldier than he was (his older brother is apparently a pagan and an anarchist, while his older sister, at 42, has 11 children and 2 grandchildren, is ultra-Orthodox, and lives in Mea Shearim). Or his story about how he wrote his first story, and how his older brother read it while he was walking his dog, and seemed to like it: “This is good”, his brother said, “Do you have other copies?” “Yes”, said Keret. And his brother took the story, crumbled it up, and used it to pick up his dog’s poop.
Keret’s wife is a poet, and wrote a rather loose screenplay that no one wanted to produce. So they produced and co-directed it. The movie is “Jellyfish”, and we rented and watched it later during the week. It is an easy going story of several women in Tel Aviv, a young single woman who finds, and then loses, a five year old child, a wedding photographer who is fired because she liked to take ‘realistic’ wedding pictures, an old German survivor who is ill, but tough, and a Philippino home care worker. A series of plot-lets, weaving in and out, coming into contact with each other and floating apart. People either like this movie a lot, or really dislike it, I am told. I liked it.
A few days later, we watched another Israeli movie, “Devarim”, which is somewhat similar to “Jellyfish”, except that it follows a few men around Tel Aviv, not women. On the other hand, the movies are miles apart, because “Devarim”, which like “Jellyfish” has won some awards, is boring, boring, boring. One of the slowest movies I have seen. It made me appreciate “Jellyfish” that much more.
I am not sure I am going to read Keret’s stories. (I am not much of a short story reader, anyway). I would go see him speak again, though, and hope that he has more than one set speech.