Sunday, May 20, 2012

Etgar Keret's stories read by an all-star cast

About the Author: Born in Tel Aviv in 1967, Etgar Keret is the author of six bestselling story collections. His writing has been published in Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and Zoetrope. Jellyfish, his first movie as a director along with his wife, Shira Geffen, won the Camera d’Or prize for best first feature at Cannes in 2007. In 2010 he was named a Chevalier of France’s Order of Arts and Letters.

About the Book: Bestselling author Etgar Keret’s short story collection, "Suddenly, A Knock On The Door," has assembled a truly all-star cast of celebrities, actors and literary greats. Ira Glass, Josh Radnor, Jonathan Safran Foer, Willem Dafoe, Josh Charles, Neal Stephenson, George Saunders, Ben Foster, Mathieu Amalric, Aimee Bender, Miranda July, Ben Marcus, John Sayles, Gary Shteyngart, Stella Schnabel, Nathan Englander, Michael Chabon, and more have all narrated stories for the audiobook – and the final product sounds absolutely amazing! Many of the narrators are even planning on attending Keret’s events in their cities and reading along with him!

An Excerpt: "Tell me a story," the bearded man sitting on my living-room sofa commands. The situation, I must say, is anything but pleasant. I'm someone who writes stories, not someone who tells them. And even that isn't something I do on demand. The last time anyone asked me to tell him a story, it was my son. That was a year ago. I told him something about a fairy and a ferret--I don't even remember what exactly--and within two minutes he was fast asleep. 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. 
I try to explain to the bearded man that if he puts his pistol away it will only work in his favor, in our favor. It's hard to think up a story with the barrel of a loaded pistol pointed at your head. But the guy insists. "In this country," he explains, "if you want something, you have to use force." He just got here from Sweden, and in Sweden it's completely different. Over there, if you want something, you ask politely, and most of the time you get it. But not in the stifling, muggy Middle East. All it takes is one week in this place to figure out how things work--or rather, how things don't work.

To finish reading this excerpt, visit the Macmillan Audio book website HERE
My Thoughts/Review: I'm quite fond of the printed word, but I must say this collection might be best enjoyed as an audio book. Each piece has been brilliantly translated so that one forgets completely that it was originally conceived in another language. One of the best collections I've ever listened to and suggest you definitely consider the audio over the print version. 
The first story starts with the command "Tell me a story." Under gunpoint, the narrator - Etgar - is ordered to make up a story. He is interrupted early on: "That's not a story...That's an eyewitness report. It's exactly what's happening here and now. Exactly what we're trying to run away from. Don't you go and dump reality on us like a garbage truck. Use your imagination, man, create, invent, take it all the way." This story sounds like a joke. It’s compact, humorous, bizarre and packs a punch. What a great way to begin an audio collection. 
Keret’s stories are strange and slightly fantastical, funny, dark, impressive and affecting and I am often tickled and surprised by the way they develop and resolve themselves.  In “Lieland”, where the subjects of lies become real, is one of my favorites on disc one. The protagonist, Robbie, learns that his lies live and thrive in another dimension and he meets his "lies come alive" simply by turning a handle. If you like Kafka and think Vonnegut was a genius, then boy are you going to love this short story collection.
With overtones of science fiction and fantasy, Keret still maintains a sense of reality in his writing. In “Unzipping” the narrator finds a small zipper under her lover's tongue; when she pulls it, he opens up "like an oyster" with a second man revealed. This allows her to remove his current outward appearance, causing him to shed his previous personality and name, thus becoming a completely new person. I was intrigued by this concept, until the notion of the character discovering her own zipper was broached, and then the sadness of the story became real. 
One of the most striking stories is “What, of this Goldfish, Would You Wish?” an obvious play on the Aladdin tale. The conflict reveals a documentary film-maker who is planning to knock on random doors and record the reactions of residents to the question: “If you found a talking goldfish that granted you three wishes, what would you wish for?” This becomes awkward, when he knocks on the door of Sergei Goralick, who has just such a fish in a jar on his kitchen counter. 
Overall, I enjoyed the audio readings more than expected and looked forward to hearing how each and every writer and actor narrated these dynamic stories. My favorites, not in any particular order are: “Cheesus Christ”, “Mystique”, “Black and Blue”, “Not Completely Alone”, “One Step Beyond”, “Joseph”, and “Parallel Universes”.
Disclosure:  I received a copy of Suddenly, A Knock On The Door gratis. Any opinions expressed are my honest opinions and were not impacted by my receipt of the free audio. I received no monetary compensation for this post.