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Suddenly, A Knock On The Door [Paperback]

Etgar Keret
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

March 27 2012
Bringing up a child, lying to the boss, placing an order in a fast-food restaurant: in Etgar Keret’s new collection, daily life is complicated, dangerous, and full of yearning. In his most playful and most mature work yet, the living and the dead, silent children and talking animals, dreams and waking life coexist in an uneasy world. Overflowing with absurdity, humor, sadness, and compassion, the tales in Suddenly, a Knock on the Door establish Etgar Keret—declared a “genius” by The New York Times—as one of the most original writers of his generation.

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“Keret’s greatest book yet—the most funny, dark, and poignant. It’s tempting to say these stories are his most Kafkaesque, but in fact they are his most Keretesque.” —Jonathan Safran Foer

“Etgar Keret’s stories are funny, with tons of feeling, driving towards destinations you never see coming. They’re written in the most unpretentious, chatty voice possible, but they’re also weirdly poetic. They stick in your gut. You think about them for days. “ —Ira Glass, host and producer of This American Life

“Strangeness abounds. Keret fits so much psychological and social complexity and metaphysical mystery into these quick, wry, jolting, funny, off-handedly fabulist miniatures, they’re like literary magic tricks: no matter how closely you read, you can’t figure out how he does it.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (March 15)

 

“His pieces elicit comparison to sources as diverse as Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut and Woody Allen . . . [Keret is] a writer who is often very funny and inventive, and occasionally profound.” —Kirkus Reviews (March 15)

 

“Israeli author Keret writes sometimes appealingly wacky, sometimes darkly absurdist stories that translate well to America . . . Sophisticated readers should check this out.” —Library Journal, pre-pub alert

 

“In this slim volume of flash fiction and short stories, Israeli author/filmmaker Keret (The Nimrod Flipout; the film Jellyfish) writes with alternating Singeresque magical realism and Kafkaesque absurdity.” —Publishers Weekly

 

“This collection of short stories brims with invention . . . Etgar Keret is a great short story writer whose work is all the greater because it’s funny . . . [He] most becomes himself in comedy shorts, telling tales of the absurd and the surreal . . . As one of the 20th century’s great comic writers—and one of Keret’s true precursors—might have said, so it goes . . . To complain about Keret being Keret is like complaining about Chekhov being Chekhov.” —Ian Sansom, The Guardian

 

“[Keret] deserves full marks for chutzpah . . . His work zings with imaginative conceits, clever asides and self-conscious twists. Yet there is also an easygoing quality to his writing that makes the 37 stories collected here instantly likeable . . . his stories assume an anecdotal style that gives them an air of spontaneity, as if he were relating them over a cup of coffee in one of the Tel Aviv cafes frequented by his characters . . . Keret’s willingness to develop quirky concepts (one story features a magic, talking goldfish) would seem to grant him a place alongside such idiosyncratic writers as Robert Walser, Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut and Italo Calvino. But if his work is sometimes reminiscent of these writers, it also carves out its own territory.” —James Ley, The Sydney Morning Herald

“A brilliant writer . . . completely unlike any writer I know. The voice of the next generation.” —Salman Rushdie

“Keret can do more with six . . .paragraphs than most writers can with 600 pages.” —Kyle Smith, People

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.


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "It all started with a dream..." July 21 2012
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Robbie, one of the protagonists in Etgar Keret's new short story collection, SUDDENLY, A KNOCK AT THE DOOR, has a dream that changes the way he understands the world around him. The story, LIELAND, one of my favourites among the thirty five in this slim volume, is on the surface a simple growing up story of a boy who started lying at a young age and continues to do so, successfully, in ever more elaborate ways, until... "it all started with a dream". By reaching into the surreal world of dreams, Keret confronts his protagonist with the consequences of his behaviour. It is a touching story, lightheartedly told, yet with deeper meaning. It is a good example for Keret's short stories that show great variety, both in content as well as structure. Some are witty, amusing or bizarre; others more serious, moving, and some even macabre, quite a few reach into the surreal. Each provides food for thought for the reader.

Keret is known as a master story teller of the short form. He combines his talent for bringing a scenario of a story to life in just a few sentences with the sharp pencil of a caricaturist who captures the essence of a person's identity and fault-lines with seemingly no effort at all. Some stories are expressly set in a physical place, like Chicago, or in Israel, others could happen almost anywhere. While the stories are all distinct, with a range of central characters, recurrent themes focus on the internal and intimate world, like love lost and betrayed, the fathers' affection for their young sons, or the yearning for a happier life. Other stories deal, often in an ironic tone, with the day-to-day of life, whether focused on neighbours, business, or the underbelly of society. Yet others, and some of the shortest, reach into the more philosophical fundamentals of life.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overflowing With Invention And Absurdity April 17 2012
By Jill I. Shtulman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Etgar Keret can do more in three or four pages than many short story writers can in stories that border on novellas. There are nearly three dozen stories that span just 188 pages, yet many are simply brilliant.

The eponymous and first story starts with a directive: "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."

I quoted that passage at length because it's really the raison d'etre of the collection. Etgar, an Israeli writer, leaves the politics and the moral quandaries to others such as David Grossman, Amos Oz and Nathan Englander. His stories focus on the escape from reality through stories that stretch and define us.

Some - as would be the case with any collection - are better than others. I'll call out a few: Lieland, where the subjects of lies become real, is one of my favorites. 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.

Teamwork, another fine story, starts like this: "My son wants me to kill her. He's still young and doesn't express this perfectly yet, but I know exactly what he's after." The "her" refers to his maternal grandmother; he is the product of divorce and a brutal plan is soon imagined by his obsequious father. Or take another story: Unzipping; in it, 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. One more: Mourner's Meal. a very recent widow opens up her failing restaurant the morning after his funeral, and gains connection with a group of strangers.

Not all the stories succeed as well; it makes me wish there were a way I could rate this a 4.5. But the ones that DO shine are so luminous that it is hard for me not to rate upward.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Improvised Magic April 20 2012
By L. King - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A wonderful confection of 35 very odd short short shorts that deftly evoke a theatre of memory and meaning - assuming that theatre is the Second City. Some like "The Story Victorious", "A Knock On the Door", "Creative Writing" and "What Animal Are You" are deliciously self referential to the process of creating a story. Others such as "LieLand", "Healthy Start", "Guava" and "What, of This Goldfish, Would You Wish" are microparables of modern life. Here and there Keret's son (or is he magic too?) peers innocently through the pages under different names - in "Big Blue Bus" he's Gilad throwing a television induced tantrum on the way to school; in "Teamwork" he's Roiki, listening to advice from his father on how they can conspire to get back at his grandmother/mother-in-law.

What I enjoyed most was the gradual collision of the absurd with everyday life. "Cheesus Christ" intertwines the life of a restaurant czar with the butterfly effect, resulting in a non-suicide. "Bad Karma" dealt with a successful insurance agent visiting the family of the accident victim that lead to his success. In "Bitch" a widower comes to terms with the reincarnation of his dead wife. "Hemorrhoid" is a Kafkaesque tale of where a man's inner voice takes over. And "September All Year Long" is about a fabuluous devices that sets extremely local weather conditions, its allure to the well to do and its failure in the market.

There are a few misses, but like an assortment of chocolates most can be sampled according to personal taste and the overall selection is delightful. Unabashedly Israeli in setting, humorous, touching, often poignant and reminiscent of Ephraim Kishon or Stuart McLean, though in stories like "Ari" and "Grab the Cuckoo By The Tail" the themes have an adult sexual aspect. Good for savouring more than once, reading out loud or sharing with friends. Recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whimsical, Magical, Amazing. May 9 2012
By Max - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Suddenly A Knock At The Door" is a delight. Etgar Keret is the real thing. He's a master. Sometimes, though, the point of his stories are hidden and at times buried. But, do not get discouraged. Great stories... great writers - it is their job to make you think. Keret has been compared to the likes of Kafka, Vonnegut, and Woody Allen. I agree. His style is both whimsical & serious. His style is also lean and reminiscent of Hemingway. But he writes with a spontaneity and freeness that is both Whitmanesque and Kerouacian in my opinion. His stories are fantasy but they're not any less real. If you enjoy this book, which I believe you absolutely will, and you appreciate short stories and poetry, I recommend reading "Leaves of Grass" (the 1892 edition) again as well as "On The Road" (1957) and the new but impressive "Seven At The Sevens" (2012). If you appreciate different styles & many different ideas, you can't go wrong with any of these volumes. Trust me.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Big disappointment - read his other stuff instead July 12 2012
By Peter K - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very disappointing book - and I am a HUGE Keret fan.

These stories feel forced, the endings don't work, and just don't flow like his previous work. The sharp wit and humor that characterizes most of his stories is lacking as well.

There was not even one story in this book that I felt captivated me like most of the previous stories of his that I read. The stories simply lack the life, and fun, and creativity, of his other work. I kept reading story after story, hoping and waiting for the magical stories that I had come to expect, but to no avail.

I would definitely not recommend anyone seeking to be introduced to Keret's work to start with this collection. If I had read this book first, I would not have read anymore. Read his other stuff, and avoid this book. However, if you are a big fan, you'll still probably want to read this for yourself - but be warned, this collection is not the same quality or feel when compared to his other stories.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pathos of Everyday Life May 22 2012
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Yes, I know you will see Etgar Keret touted as a surrealist, and that the name Kafka will crop up in searching for parallels to his very short short stories, even though in fact they are unique. And certainly there is often a surreal element there; I noticed it especially in the twenty tales collected in one of his previous books, GAZA BLUES. But what strikes me more than anything in the three dozen stories in this new collection is how well they reflect the pathos of everyday life: loneliness, unrequited love, marital tensions, the difficulties of being a divorced parent. Even when Keret uses a surreal device to explore his theme, as he does in about a third of these stories, the point behind them is as often as not very real, and a little sad.

Take one story in the book, very short, only a page and a half long. Entitled WHAT DO WE HAVE IN OUR POCKETS?, it begins with its narrator's partial inventory of the content of his pockets. A postage stamp, for instance, in case he comes upon a beautiful girl next to a red mailbox on a rainy night with a stampless envelope in her hand. And he'll help her. And when she coughs because of the cold and the rain, he'll offer her a cough drop. "'What else do you have in your pockets?' she'll ask [...] and I'll answer without hesitation: Everything you'll ever need, my love. Everything you'll ever need."

Some of my other favorites are BLACK AND BLUE, a sad little story about two almost-lovers, an American and an Israeli, ships that pass in the Tel Aviv night. Or TEAMWORK and BIG BLUE BUS, two quite realistic stories about a divorced father trying to be a good parent to his young son. Or BITCH, about a widower on a French train, who sees his late wife's eyes in an old lady's poodle, and apologizes to it for her death. Or CREATIVE WRITING, about a couple who separately take fiction courses in the wake of a miscarriage, their fantastic stories saying more about them than any of the connecting narrative.

And, yes, there are surreal stories here too. The title piece, for example, is about the author being forced to write at gunpoint, each turn in the story immediately reflected in the situation that frames it, like that Escher drawing of a hand drawing a hand drawing a hand. Or LIELAND, a fantasy that reminds me a little of Amos Oz, in which the lies we tell in everyday life take up residence in a parallel universe. Or PICK A COLOR, a parable about racism that ends with the appearance of a sad silvery God in a wheelchair: "The yellow priest fell to his knees and begged His forgiveness. If a stronger God had come to his church, he probably would have carried on cursing him, even if he had to go to hell for it. But seeing the silvery, disabled God made him feel regret and sorrow, and he really did want His forgiveness."

I could go on. Keret seldom writes explicitly about religion, though a kind of secular humanism underlies everything he does write. His stories are virtually apolitical, though he himself is not, and the facts of Israeli life (army service, security, suicide bombers) make occasional appearances in the background. His longer stories are seldom as good as his short ones, but most of those are extraordinary, the surprise jolt of offbeat invention leading almost every time to a deeper appreciation of the familiar
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