I’m not flat and sly
Like a spatula creeping up from below.
At most I am a heavy and clumsy pestle
Mashing good and bad together
For a little taste
And a little fragrance.

—Yehuda Amichai

I just read the Israeli writer Etgar Keret’s The Girl On The Fridge, which features reprints from his first short stories. This is the first Keret book I’ve read, but I’ve heard him interviewed on the Wisconsin public radio show To The Best of Our Knowledge; one of his short stories I heard on This American Life; And I saw the film Jellyfish he co-directed with his wife who wrote the script. All contributing to my idea of Etgar Keret as the improbably well-adjusted, inventive, and sagely humanist soul raised in a tempest. So I wasn’t prepared for the brutally ambivalent and cynical voice that overrides the 46 gestures of this compact volume. Are these characterizations of jingoism and misogyny, could it be that the words are so spare that the overall tone of the collection becomes muddled or tenuous?

His stories are minimalist exercises, a writerly quest for that turning point where concision becomes fantasia. Maybe the term surrealism has long been an empty label, too easily applied to any dreamlike passage, every fantastic story told along unfamiliar lines. But unlike the surrealists that wanted to imbue the fascio-rationalist world with the anarchy of dream time, and thereby explode the possibilities, Keret seems to do the opposite, or maybe the unspoken corollary: to reveal the dark substratum, the savage rationalism that dictates dream time, a space of banal violence, the reductio ad absurdum of all ideology.

For me the strongest pieces were the two that bookend the collection, the two that seemed the most optimistic, like the wings of some makeshift deus ex machina barely hovering above all the bloodshed and anger.