Sud­den­ly, a Knock at the Door

By – April 18, 2012

Some­times fun­ny, some­times dark, and always cre­ative, Etgar Keret’s lat­est col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, Sud­den­ly, a Knock at the Door, is his most imag­i­na­tive con­coc­tion yet. Whether it’s a talk­ing gold­fish, or an alter­nate world where your lies take on new mean­ing, each sto­ry will pro­voke you, dis­turb you, and get you to think about every­day occur­rences in a total­ly dif­fer­ent light.

Keret’s sto­ries simul­ta­ne­ous­ly take you on a cre­ative jour­ney while pro­vid­ing a can­did, pen­e­trat­ing view of con­tem­po­rary Israeli soci­ety and cul­ture. His sto­ries will make you laugh, they will make you sad, and they will push you to wonder.

Most of the sto­ries are less than four pages long, yet each one feels like a brief peek into an elab­o­rate world. Keret wastes no time set­ting the scene, or intro­duc­ing the character’s names — it usu­al­ly doesn’t mat­ter. What mat­ters is the sto­ry. Some­thing is hap­pen­ing, and Keret wants to let you into his unique world to tell you about it.

He deft­ly maneu­vers the sto­ry so that you real­ly don’t need to know exact­ly who it’s about or where it takes place. What mat­ters is the deep dia­logue and the thought-pro­vok­ing storyline. 

Some of the sto­ries seem out of place, and some might leave you won­der­ing whether you missed some­thing, but all of them just seem to work. Each sto­ry is an adven­ture of its own, and guar­an­tees not to disappoint.

Eliyahu Rosen cur­rent­ly lives in Boston, MA with his wife Jen­ni, and is an MBA-MS can­di­date at the Boston Uni­ver­si­ty School of Management.

Discussion Questions

1. How were you affect­ed by the way the title sto­ry and the clos­ing sto­ry, What Ani­mal Are You?,” describe writ­ers ver­sus audi­ences? Does the sto­ry in The Sto­ry, Vic­to­ri­ous” ful­fill the high expec­ta­tions that were set for it?

2. If you were to pull the arm of the gum­ball machine in Lieland,” what would you encounter? Who were the most inter­est­ing char­ac­ters in your past lies?

3. Sud­den­ly, a Knock on the Door fea­tures many scenes of unre­solved love, from Miron in Healthy Start,” who is will­ing to get punched for some­one else’s infi­deli­ty so that he can expe­ri­ence human inter­ac­tion, to the nar­ra­tor of Not Com­plete­ly Alone,” whose beloved is involved with a mar­ried man. Which of the book’s love sto­ries res­onat­ed the most with you?

4. Most of the book’s char­ac­ters face a star­tling fate: Cheesus Christ” fea­tures a but­ter­fly effect involv­ing clin­i­cal depres­sion, mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and sheer bad luck; Simy­on dies in a ter­ror­ist attack, leav­ing behind a wid­ow who bare­ly knew him but will enjoy the pen­sion; Oshri in Bad Kar­ma” sur­vives when jumper Nat­tie lands on his head, but Oshri is wist­ful for his comatose days. What do the book’s death tales tell us about survival?

5. What com­mon traits are shared by all the char­ac­ters, regard­less of whether they are Arab, Israeli, or Amer­i­can? Does gen­der affect the per­son­al­i­ties of the char­ac­ters, or are the book’s men and women equal­ly neurotic/​rational, pushy/​passive?

6. How did you react to the final scenes in Pick a Col­or” and One Step Beyond”? What inter­pre­ta­tion of God is offered in each of these stories?

7. Rein­car­na­tion abounds in this col­lec­tion, from Bertha in Bitch,” who becomes a trav­el­ing poo­dle, to Shke­di in Gua­va,” who arranges for peace on earth but becomes a ter­ri­fied gua­va. if you were to be rein­car­nat­ed as a non­hu­man, what would your best and worst options look like?

8. In sto­ries of pun­ish­ment, such as A Good One” (in which entre­pre­neur Ger­shon gets clob­bered by a secu­ri­ty guard while try­ing to mar­ket his board game, stop — Police”), is there any jus­tice? Or is there only irony?

9. How did the collection’s depic­tions of chil­dren (rang­ing from The Polite Lit­tle Boy” to the demand­ing Hil­lel in Big Blue Bus”) com­pare to your mem­o­ries of child­hood? What does Roiki’s sto­ry in Team­work” say about the way par­ents explain the world to their chil­dren, and the aspects of child­hood we nev­er leave behind?

10. Dis­cuss the pow­er and achieve­ments of the hem­or­rhoid in the sto­ry by the same name. Is the hem­or­rhoid an alle­gor­i­cal char­ac­ter that can teach us impor­tant life lessons? Or is it just incred­i­bly funny?

11. Sev­er­al of the sto­ries address finan­cial issues direct­ly, espe­cial­ly Sep­tem­ber All Year Long” and Grab the Cuck­oo by the Tail.” What does say Sud­den­ly, a Knock on the Door about the rela­tion­ship between wealth and doom?

12. What, of the gold­fish, would you wish?

13. In sto­ries such as Unzip­ping” and Pud­ding,” the char­ac­ters assume new iden­ti­ties in an instant. How does Keret make his sur­re­al­ism seem realistic?

14. What uni­ver­sal fears and long­ings are expressed in the inter­twin­ing lives of Sur­prise Party”?

15. Sud­den­ly, a Knock on the Door fea­tures more than a hun­dred char­ac­ters and dozens of some­times inter­lock­ing sto­ry lines. What does this indi­cate about the ver­sa­til­i­ty of short fic­tion? What can short sto­ries achieve that a nov­el can’t?