Jetlag by Etgar Keret is a short but fascinating collection of five short stories set to drawings by five different Israeli artists: Mira Friedman, Batia Kolton, Rutu Modan, Yirmi Pinkus, Itzik Rennert. Keret, one of Israel’s best writers, creates what might be better called fables. His stories are brief and always have an element of unrealty to them. The unreality, though, is designed to turn the reader back to the strangeness of reality.
The first story is about a magician who suddenly begins to have trouble pulling the rabbit out of the hat. One time he pulls a bloody rabbit’s head from the hat and in a another he pulls a dead baby. But the audience seems to love it and a child keeps the bloody head of the rabbit as a memento. Instead of magic revealing the wondrous, the unfathomable becomes the way the audiences accept death and the grotesque as entertainment. The magician gives up his trade, and finishes the story saying,
…I don’t do much of anything. I just lie in bed and think about the rabbit’s head and the baby’s body. As if they’re some clues to a riddle, as if somebody was trying to tell me something; that now it’s not really the best of times for rabbits or for babies. That it’s not the best of times for magicians.
In the story Jetlag the narrator finds himself on an airplane where a flight attendant is paying extra attention to him. At first it seems as if she wants him to join the clichéd mile high club with her. A ten year-old girl at his side tells him he should go have sex with her, then claims she is a 30 year-old dwarf smuggling heroin. Eventually, the narrator goes to the back of the plane to talk to the flight attendant. She doesn’t want to have sex with him, but instead, wants to give him a parachute because the plane has orders to crash. The flight attendant says they crash a plane every year or two so that passengers will take flight safety seriously. As the story ends he says, the rescue looked quite heart warming on TV. Again, Keret takes liberties with a reality that has become all too common—the disaster coverage on TV—and uses it as an opportunity to look at it as a fiction, switching genres to make it observable. What should be a horror, becomes just entertainment.
In each of the stories Keret is able to say something about modern society, its violence, its loneliness, its spectator culture, and question how it effects us. His stories are marvels of compression and an unreality that seems real.