In his most recent collection of short stories, Fly Already, Etgar Keret takes you into a parallel plane of reality that is uncannily familiar to our own, but peppered with whimsical and sometimes bleakly science-fictional twists and turns, where fathers shapeshift into rabbits and escape rooms are cloaked anthropological tests on humans’ interpersonal relationships. A careful reader may pick up on some cohesive threads throughout the twenty-two discrete stories, such as Avri, one of Tel Aviv’s marijuana dealers, who makes his appearance both in “One Gram Short” and “Pineapple Crush.” Throughout each story, Keret shrewdly and insightfully inhabits the first person of various characters who reside in this alternate reality; ranging from a member of the military in a dystopia where Trump has been elected into his third term, artificial intelligence with strikingly human feelings, an emotionally stunted man on his fiftieth birthday, a nineteen-year-old virgin, and a stoner who glides from day to day living for Tel Aviv sunsets accompanied by his daily joint.
Often, Keret uses his favorite device: the screwball parable in this parallel world to comment upon our own sociopolitical reality. For instance, while Palestinians are never mentioned, Keret uses our collective cultural memories of atrocities, like the Holocaust, in evocative ways to ask the reader to reflect on how humans tend to categorize different forms of oppression of marginalized peoples by importance based on their heritage.
While this alternative reality plays with the Nietzschean concept that God is dead — as seen in “Ladder,” in which a new angel navigates a Godless heaven run by high-ranking angels — “play” is the operative word here; there is a sense of whimsy that comes through in Keret’s unique and skillfully translated voice. While in one story, an interfaith couple wanders through Yad Vashem on a guided tour, emotionally hampered by the recent loss of their pregnancy, in another story, “At Night,” a pet goldfish waits for his family to fall asleep so it may hop out of its fishbowl, put on “Dad’s checked slippers” and watch cartoons and nature films until four a.m.
In some of the more meta narratives, such as “Fungus,” in which a writer likens the act of writing stories to “an itch…a fungus under my fingernail,” Keret reasons that “A story isn’t a magic spell or hypnotherapy; a story is just a way to share with other people something you feel, something intimate, sometimes even embarrassing…” The stories in Fly Already share just this: human experiences — sometimes intimate, embarrassing, whimsical, and cynical, but always genuine accounts of various expressions of the human condition.
Sasha Tamar Strelitz is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Denver who is plotting her escape from the tenth circle of hell Dante omitted: adjuncting.