Fly Already: Sharp, action-packed short stories

Book Review: Etgar Keret’s sixth collection uses dialogue to make the everyday strange

 Etgar Keret uses speech to carry us along, recognising it as a kind of duet, a call and response. Photograph:  Adam Guz/Getty Images Poland/Getty Images

Etgar Keret uses speech to carry us along, recognising it as a kind of duet, a call and response. Photograph: Adam Guz/Getty Images Poland/Getty Images

Our brains are hardwired for stories – from the moment we’re born we are told them, and as soon as we can speak we start telling them. Fairy tales, soap operas, romantic comedies, tragedies, 800-page Russian novels and 96-episode Netflix series – story abounds and surrounds us and much of it follows the same patterns. Aristotle was harping on about the importance of a good plot millennia ago and a lot of what he said has stayed with us. He liked stories to have a beginning, middle and end with every element building towards a whole. These elements have been taken apart and put back together in an infinite number of ways, but the parts remain the same and our familiarity with them has made us sophisticated navigators of narrative. We fill in the gaps. We jump ahead. We are, perhaps, more difficult to surprise than the ancient Greeks. But a good storyteller can take any situation, upset our expectations at every point and arrive at a conclusion that although wholly unexpected, feels like the only possible outcome.

Fly Already, by the Israeli writer Etgar Keret, is a collection of 22 short stories, each one a surprise of its own. Translated from Hebrew, the book is Keret’s sixth story collection and the winner of the 2019 Sapir Prize, Israel’s most prestigious literary award.

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