Last night acclaimed author and director Etgar Keret offered to transform into a parrot who sits on my shoulder to bear witness to my daily insanities. I didn’t take him up on his offer during the question and answer period after a reading of his short stories at the School of the Art Institute, mostly because I don’t like birds and am not sure that they are allowed by my condo association.
However, the reason I love Keret’s characters is because, if I were one, right then I would have marched up to the stage and watched as he turned into a talking bird and walked out with him. Or perhaps, more likely I would have allowed him to sign a few books for the adoring audience and then, after he grew bright blue and yellow feathers, I would have put him on my shoulder and crossed Columbus Drive.
While some will praise Keret for humanizing a generation of Israelis, my admiration of his work comes from the uninhibited, unapologetic, unconstrained ethos of the characters in his stories. And while his plotlines are unrealistic, they sit in the constraints of realism enough to make the reader relate as well as feel discomfort which inevitably evolves into an intense satiation especially in comparison to the number of words per story.
Keret taps into the darkest and probably funniest parts of the human soul and exposes them in carefully crafted narratives, although last night he said that when he writes he “never knows where the story is going to go.”
He explained that life can be paired down to a “multiple choice experience” and his characters “take their defenses off.”
As a mostly closeted fiction writer, my biggest challenge is not creating open and unrestrained characters, but feeling empowered to share them with anyone for fear of what people will think of them and of course, me.
To some degree that kind of reserve has allowed me to achieve some degree of objective personal and professional success. Had I brought the parrot home with me, he would have liked my condo. Had he come to Shorashim, he would have been reasonably impressed with the work that we do there.
But similarly to my robot-like nature in a poorly conceived attempt at a Latin dance class the other day, sometimes I wonder what it would be like to just forget the years of socialization and let my thoughts run their course wherever they might take me.
But alas, I’m not a character in a Keret story. However, I can read his works and then sit with them in what he describes as the fourth dimension, where what is good and intangible sit with us, like a parrot on our shoulder.