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The Girl on the Fridge Stories

Etgar Keret; Translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

0374531056

9780374531058

Trade Paperback

192 Pages

$13.00

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A birthday-party magician whose hat tricks end in horror and gore; a girl parented by a major household appliance; the possessor of the lowest IQ in the Mossad—such are the denizens of Etgar Keret’s dark and fertile mind. The Girl on the Fridge contains the best of Keret’s first collections, the ones that made him a household name in Israel and the major discovery of this last decade.

REVIEWS

Praise for The Girl on the Fridge

"From the beginning, the most unmistakable aspect of Keret’s style has been the length of his stories. Averaging about three pages, each presents a single fully formed incident, often surreal. In one of the stories in The Girl on the Fridge, a man waiting on the street hears from a passerby that the buses are all dead. When he goes to the central bus station, he sees 'hundreds scattered all over the place, rivulets of fuel oozing out of their disemboweled shells, their shattered innards strewn on the black and silent asphalt.' The story manages to be both whimsical and deeply serious, a flight of fancy built around an image from the very real world of suicide bombings . . . [Keret's stories] present an extraordinary vision, a fresh, original and effective portrait of a society and its beleaguered young men. In three-page bursts, he shows us an Israel no longer filled with pioneers and heroes but with ordinary people—a view from the ground, as genuine as it is bleak."—Joseph Weisberg, The New York Times Book Review

"Keret is a brilliant writer . . . completely unlike any writer I know. He is the voice of the next generation."—Salman Rushdie

"Short, strange, funny, deceptively casual in tone and affect, stories that sound like a joke but aren't—Etgar Keret is a writer to be taken seriously."—Yann Martel

"Some writers scribble notes on cocktail napkins. Others compose entire literary collections on cocktail napkins. Reading Etgar Keret's new book of 46 very short tales, one suspects that the main criteria for inclusion were that his stories be 1) funny, 2) bizarre and 3) capable of fitting inside the wet, splotchy ring left by a pint glass. Rarely are stories as economical as Keret's, and rarely are economical stories as affecting as these. Keret, an Israeli writer whose work has been featured on This American Life and Selected Shorts, explores the nature of violence and alienation from a surreal, whimsical perspective in writings that rarely exceed five pages in length. Even the most impatient reader has time for these quick reads. An especially memorable tale is 'Hat Trick,' in which a magician struggles to capture the attention of video-game-playing children at a birthday party. When, to his shock, the rabbit he pulls from his hat emerges without a body (just 'the head, and lots and lots of blood') he gets five job offers the next day from kids impressed by his gory performance. A child of Holocaust survivors and a former soldier himself, Keret imbues many of his stories with the very same terror that characterizes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and yet he never espouses any particular political ideology. He has, in fact, been criticized for his ambivalence by A.B. Yehoshua, the elder statesman of Israeli letters (his response to Yehoshua might very well present itself in the form of 'No Politics,' another story in this collection). If Keret does have an ideology, it's that violence, in any form, is absurd—sometimes comically absurd. What's most intriguing about these stories is their impressive brevity. In perhaps a self-referential nod to his own tendency to whittle down a story to its most indivisible elements, Keret even includes a tale called 'Quanta,' the plural of quantum, a Latin word meaning 'what quantity.' To which Keret might reply: 'How many napkins you got?'"—Tiffany Lee-Youngren, The San Diego-Union Tribune

"The first story in The Girl on the Fridge, Israeli writer Etgar Keret's new collection, doubles as an opening announcement: The briefest of the book's 46 exceptionally short pieces, 'Asthma Attack' suggests the value that words accrue when one is unable to breathe. 'A word's a lot,' he argues, especially when that word is 'ambulance.' Asthma sufferers learn to choose them well; 'Let healthy people toss out whatever comes to mind,' Keret writes, 'the way you throw out garbage.' By his own metric, Keret (whose last collection was The Nimrod Flipout) is the raging asthmatic of short-fiction writers, his words chosen and few, his stories issued with the urgency of an inhaler's blast. It may seem perverse that a writer so devoted to the well-selected word should traffic in terms like nimrod, flipout, and—in this collection—homo, dipshit, and retard. But the middle-school slurs and wistful deadpan of Keret's language, and the absurdist tendencies of his aesthetic, belie an ability to wallop the reader with the earthbound and the awful. Keret's characters live inside their metaphors—a woman superglues herself to the ceiling after arguing with her straying boyfriend over the product's bonding power; a magician pulls dead babies from his hat . . . The stories are populated by soldiers, lovers, Arabs, and Jews, and are permeated by violence and loss. Greeting the offhand, personal havoc they're subjected to with grim familiarity, Keret's characters suggest the broader Israeli experience in brief, sidelong strokes . . Keret's best conjure not only a country, but a world, and in just a few breaths."—Michelle Orange, The Village Voice

"Etgar Keret, author of the acclaimed story collection The Nimrod Flipout, writes so conversationally that reading him is more like listening to him. His specialty is flash fiction, stories only a few pages long that thrum with the tropes of modern slapstick—sexual excess, nutty violence, goofy self-righteousness—and enchanted by spells of surrealism. There is no better way to enjoy his work than to read it out loud. He has great comic timing, and writes first and foremost to entertain . . . The best and most explosive story in the collection, 'Moral Something,' is also one of the shortest. A mere 1 1/2 pages long, it moves rapidly through various aspects of Israeli culture with the verve of a Frank O'Hara poem—showing how parents, teachers and schoolchildren respond to a death sentence handed down to an Arab accused of killing a female solider. 'After school, the big kids had a fight about how if you hang somebody and he dies, it's because he chokes or the rope breaks his neck,' says our breathless teen narrator. Then he watches as the kids solve their quandary by hanging a cat, ending the story on a revealing note: 'And Michal—she's the prettiest girl in the school, probably—came by and she said we were all disgusting and like animals, and I barfed but not because of her.' The absence of a comma after ‘barfed’ is crucial. It makes the line seem quick and defensive in a way even the narrator cannot absolutely comprehend. His confusion is presented with terrific clarity, and the reader is utterly surprised."—Karan Mahajan, San Francisco Chronicle

We, Brave New World, 1984, A Clockwork Orange: These classics of dystopian fiction provide relief from their grim predictions only because they are predictions. The worlds the books portray are far in the future and thus, it is implied, preventable. Not so with Etgar Keret’s latest collection of disturbing yet hilarious short stories, The Girl on the Fridge. The dystopia that this Israeli writer presents is no imminent nightmare; it’s a reflection of the everyday irrationality and suffering in Keret’s homeland and elsewhere. And though this reflection is as fragmented as the world it depicts—forty-six absurd scenes that range in length from a paragraph to a few pages—the pieces add up to a blindingly meaningful whole. The gist: Life will screw you up, but at least you’re still here to tell your story. Reading Keret’s collection is a little like sitting at a bar next to a guy who is telling his story, unbidden and relentlessly."—Amy Rosenberg, Bookforum

"Keret may be the most important writer working in Israel right now; certainly he is the closest observer of its post-intifada, post-Oslo spiritual condition. And astonishingly, he is also the Israeli writer closest to the literary tradition of pre-Israel, pre-Holocaust European Jewry . . . Kafka said that literature should be an ax to break the frozen sea within us. Keret is a writer whaling at the ice with a Wiffle ball bat."—Stephen Marche, The Forward

“Saying a lot with a little need not be replaced to a novelty act. Take Etgar Keret. These days, the Tel Aviv resident is best known as the co-director of the acclaimed Israeli film Jellyfish, but legions of fans in Israel, the United States and elsewhere have taken to his short stories with a fervor once reserved for, say, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Having just consumed a 171-page compilation of his earliest works, The Girl on the Fridge, in about 80 minutes flat, I can see why. The emotional depth and feeling Keret manages to wring from stories perhaps not even two pages long is simply stunning—over the course of a yarn shorter than a San Francisco Examiner article. Keret introduces us to a protagonist, more or less establishes his or her station in life, and really makes us feel the hope, desperation, rage or resignation fueling his literary creations . . . Keret's surrealism and taste for the mystical have earned him favorable comparisons to Isaac Bashevis Singer—not bad for work written when the author was fresh out of his Israeli Defense Forces hitch . . . Head to any bookstore and you'll find shelf after shelf of dragons, telepathy, hearts, moons, stars and clovers. Yet an author who has Keret's knack for dialogue and storytelling and the ability to paint such nuanced portraits of life within the confines of exceptionally short stories—well that's magic.”—Joe Eskenazi, Jewish News Weekly

"Keret's words never fail to make an impression . . . He takes revealing, darkly comic snapshots of contradiction, paradox, dilemma, and desperation, moving effortlessly between lean Carveresque realism, the painterly prose of Italo Calvino, and the stark domestic absurdity pioneered by Eugène Ionesco. Each story, whether it's about a Jew who's beaten for not hating Arabs enough or a neglected wife who superglues herself to the ceiling, plays out like a cheap but irresistible magic trick performed by a birthday-party magician who is as surprised as anybody when dead babies start popping out of his hat instead of rabbits or colored scarves. Appropriately The Girl on the Fridge . . . leaves the reader wanting to see much more from Etgar Keret."—Chris Davis, Memphis Flyer

"Etgar Keret's stories are like paper cuts—slim, dry and almost invisible until you look at them up close, but in fact they can be deeper and more painful than broken bones or the ugliest flesh wounds. Sometimes a paper cut, especially an infected one, dominates your whole body, so that it's all you notice and all you can feel. He's a writer who does what short fiction writers should do—he makes his point fast. There's magic in each of these stories, yes, and there's dreaminess, and ambiguity, and poetry, but ultimately when you read an Etgar Keret story you are getting the razor blade, undisguised by the bar of soap . . . In early 21st century short fiction, originality is rare. The lumbering 'short stories' published in The New Yorker or nominated for the Pushcart Prize or anthologized in various 'Best Of' collections often seem familiar, like we've read them already. I find myself giving some leeway to these vaguely derivative little missives from mentees to their mentors. After all, we live in a world of billions of words, many of them tired out from overuse. If a story is true, and revelatory, and makes the reader feel something—if it creates a world—isn't that original enough? But too often, those prize-winning stories don't hold up to any test of quality at all. They don't deserve to be written, and who knows why they're so celebrated? Maybe it's precisely because of their familiarity, because certain styles and themes have worn a groove into contemporary literature. In this climate, Etgar Keret is an anomaly and a relief. His stories chronicle the current moment, and each is original, sudden and true. He writes about a quietly shocking world—sometimes the shocks are loud and spectacular, but our response as humans is to be struck silent—and he tells stories that are both grand and small. Each of his pieces reads as part of a sad, strange, butterfly effect—heartbreak begets heartbreak, each ugly surprise begets another ugly surprise. They are karmic parables for the apocalypse, when you understand that karma is not about punishment or reward, but the simple truth of natural consequences."—Elizabeth Bachner, Bookslut

"There are whimsical tales like 'Nothing,' about a woman who loved a man who was made of nothing because this love would never betray her, and 'Freeze!' about a guy who can stop the world and uses the power to score with hot girls. Despite an appealing, comic voice . . . a haunting theme arises as stories featuring violence accumulate: 'Not Human Beings,' in which an Israeli soldier is beaten by fellow officers when he objects to the cruel treatment of an old Arab man, screams in the face of bloodshed, whereas the irritation of the father in 'A Bet,' when TV news reports on an Arab sentenced to death preempts an episode of 'Moonlighting,' suggests how violence has been normalized. Keret demonstrates how . . . short form . . . create[s] moments of startling power."—Publishers Weekly

In the Press

Work in Progress » Blog Archive » Willem Dafoe, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Shalom Auslander Read Etgar Keret
There's something about Etgar Keret's short stories that sound great when read aloud. Fortunately for us, a few of his notable friends have volunteered to read pieces from his latest collection, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door. You can also read Keret's story "Mystique" along with Willem Dafoe, should you so choose.

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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THE GIRL ON THE FRIDGE (Asthma Attack)

When you have an asthma attack, you can’t breathe. When you can’t breathe, you can hardly talk. To make a sentence all you get is the air in your lungs. Which isn’t much. Three to six words, if that. You learn the value of words. You rummage through the jumble in your head. Choose the crucial ones—those cost you too. Let healthy people toss out whatever comes to mind, the way you throw out the garbage. When an asthmatic says “I love you,” and when an asthmatic says “I love you madly,” there’s a diff

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Etgar Keret; Translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston

  • Etgar Keret was born in Tel Aviv in 1967. His stories have been featured on This American Life and Selected Shorts. As screenwriters/directors, he and his wife, Shira Geffen, won the 2007 Palme d’Or for Best Debut Feature (Jellyfish) at the Cannes Film Festival.
  • Etgar Keret © Yanai Yechiel
    Etgar Keret
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