The Best Spanish Language Short Stories of 2012 from Sergi Bellver

The Spanish writer and critic of the short story Sergi Bellver has published his list of the best short stories that appeared in Spanish. It is a long list and will give anyone reading it an insight into the art of the short story. In his list I’ve seen a couple authors that I’ve seen in a couple of other articles. One is Edmundo Paz Soldán a Bolivian writer, and Ignacio Ferrando a Spanish writer. Both had interesting collections come out this year. You can read the full article here.

Llama la atención la irrupción en 2012 de varios narradores latinoamericanos en el panorama editorial español del cuento. Tal vez la más llamativa sea la del excelente escritor mexicano Alberto Chimal, de cuya narrativa breve el crítico Antonio J. Morato seleccionó los relatos del libro Siete (Salto de Página). Otro de los hallazgos trasatlánticos del año ha sido la edición española, a cargo del sello aragonés Tropo, de Vacaciones permanentes, que la boliviana Liliana Colanzi había publicado con la editorial El Cuervo en su país.Precisamente su compatriota Edmundo Paz Soldán, a quien ya conocíamos por estos lares gracias a sus novelas,ha publicado en el último tramo del 2012 uno de los conjuntos de relatos más interesantes de la temporada, Billie Ruth (Páginas de Espuma). América sigue siendo un filón para el mejor relato, y de algunos ilustres cuentistas latinoamericanos que ya no están entre nosotros, como el original y desapercibido Francisco Tario (mexicano) con La noche, o el inigualable y genial Felisberto Hernández (uruguayo) con La casa inundada, la editorial Atalanta ha recuperado en 2012 sus mejores textos para la colección Ars Brevis. Pero no sigamos por esa senda, ni por la de los libros traducidos de lenguas extranjeras (porque entonces no daríamos abasto y tendríamos que empezar mencionando joyas tan singulares como los relatos de Peking by night, de Svetislav Basara, publicados por Minúscula), y regresemos a los autores españoles actuales, aunque me detendré antes en otro libro de cuentos en particular, uno de los mejores en el arranque de 2012: el convincente Un montón de gatos, de Eider Rodríguez (Caballo de Troya), autora vasca que escribe y publica primero en euskera y luego traduce al castellano sus relatos, pero que, hasta donde sé, revisa y edita a fondo sus textos en ese proceso, por lo que su propia traducción se convierte en todo un trabajo de autoría. Capítulo aparte (que dejaré para otro día, por sangrante) merece el cuento en catalán, en un año en el que los lectores en castellano han visto pasar de largo el centenario de un cuentista contemporáneo de talla europea como Pere Calders, ya que ninguna editorial ha considerado acometer la tarea de actualizar y presentar sus cuentos al lector en castellano, es decir, no sólo al español, sino también al hispanoamericano. Respecto al cuento escrito en gallego, en otoño de 2012 llegó la traducción al castellano de la Narrativa breve completa de Carlos Casares, por parte de la editorial barcelonesa Libros del Silencio.

Hi, This is Conchita and Other Stories by Santiago Roncagliolo – A Review

Hi, This is Conchita and Other Stories
Santiago Roncagliolo
Edith Grossman, translator
Two Lines Press, 2012, pg 176
(Publication Date: April 9, 2013)

Santiago Roncagliolo’s Hi, This is Conchita is a series of phone calls stripped of all narrative clutter. They exist just as voices as if one were listening to a wire tap, or as fits Conchita, voyeurs . It is a structure that served another Latin American writer, Mario Benedetti, well, and in the hands of Roncagliolo it makes for some humorous writing. It also shows Roncagliolo’s talent for comedy, which has not been as apparent in his works translated into English so far.

Composed of alternating phone calls, Conchita follows four characters in an unnamed city. Conchita is a phone sex worker and her first call opens the book with straight up porn. Within a couple lines she is already talking about how hot she is. Every imaginable cliché follows from there. Roncagliolo adds even more humor as Conchita’s clients break in mid fantasy to correct her descriptions of the act. For example, in the first call she says she is on his office desk and leaning on the coffee machine, and the caller corrects her and says the machine is across the room. From there they go back and forth negotiating what she really would be leaning on, before she returns to the act. The humor intensifies with each call because they all start the same way and have the same non sequiturs into details of the room, or what the caller looks like. For the callers, though, the illusion never fails and one caller continues to call back, falling in love with Conchita. It is a voice of loneliness that inhabits all to frequently the men who engage with phone sex. Roncagliolo does not make fun of the caller, but the situation and in the end he gives a power to change events that he does not know he has and may never realize.

Following on the humor of Conchita are the conversations of a hit man and his client. The hit man is a professional but he is also clumsy and has a philosophical outlook that leads him to question his client if he really wants to kill his lover. The client can’t stand the questions, but the hit man thinks affairs of the heart don’t need to be solved by killing. The conversations between the two are funny and create a dynamic between the passions of the client and the professionalism of the hit man that leave the reader with the impression that the hit man is of great skill. Yet when it comes to the actual hit the only thing professional about him is willingness to kill. And from that a series of humorous events ensue that tie the book together.

Two other callers are a self obsessed ex boy friend who leaves long and rambling messages on his ex’s answering machine. After the first call it seems obvious why she left him. However, Roncagliolo is playing with the reader here, because all one knows is his voice. She never speaks. All that is known is that they had something for sometime and like the Conchita’s callers he is lonely and pitiful. He’ as pitiful as the man who keeps calling the customer service agent and never gets help with what he needs. While the ex boyfriend is occasionally heavy handed, the customer service vignettes with their bureaucratic logic and employees who make one feel as if you are wasting their time, are the most common stereotype throughout the book. If it did not link in with the other stories as the book concludes it would have dragged the book down.

At first the calls are separate, unconnected, then as the story grows the characters begin to intersect. The calls between a man and his lover intersect between the hit man and his client, changing what had been the comedic episodes of two men, intrudes its true horror on the voice of a desperate woman who demands her lover respect her. Roncagliolo doesn’t tie all the stories neatly together, but they do all interrelate, if even lightly. The interrelations, though, expand the characters and adding a level of complexity to them that has not existed until then. Even the otherwise week customer service calls are reframed by the new relationships. It is this ability to shift how one looks at the stories and turns the humor from bright to dark that makes Hi, This is Conchita interesting.

Three stories are also included in the collection. While their is nothing particularly wrong with them, they are not really that noteworthy. For someone looking for a good short story, one should see the story included in The Future Is Not Ours. The stories are typical written in the realistic tradition, ones that populate so many collections of short stories that while well written, don’t really add anything new. However, if one has not read many short stories from younger Latin American writers, they will give an insight into how younger writers are looking at more international models and as such the stories can seem similar.

Hi, This is Conchita and other stories is a funny book from an up and coming star of Latin American fiction. A reader would do well to spend a little time with this short volume of freely rendered conversations.

FTC Notice: The publisher of the book provided me a copy of the book. For that I thank them.

La realidad quebradiza: Antología de cuentos (The Fragile Reality) by José María Merino – A Review

cubierta_MERINO_IMPRENTALa realidad quebradiza: Antología de cuentos
(The Fragile Reality: An Anthology of Short Stories)
José María Merino
Páginas de Espuma, 2012, pg 262

José María Merino’s La realidad quebradiza: Antología de cuentos is an anthology of short stories from a writer who in his fiction has explored the fantastic as a way to break open the fragile reality surrounds and paradoxically for something so ephemeral traps us. While not particularly well known in the English speaking world, he has published a steady stream of fiction since 1976 including novels, short stories, and children’s books, and has won several awards, is a member of the Real Academia Española, and amongst fans of the short story is a respected figure. Although he has not exclusively focused on the fantastic, it is, perhaps, what he is best known for, with stories ranging in style from horror to science fiction to meta works that hearken to Borges, Kafka and Cortazar. With La realidad quebradiza: Antología de cuentos, Páginas de Espuma has put together a career spaning overview of his work amongst the short form that not only includes a large selection of short and micro stories, but a lengthy if rather strange introduction to his work from Juan Jacinto Muñoz Rengel, and a long interview with Merino that examine his approaches to writing short fiction. It is probably as a good an introduction as one could ask for.

The fantastic is difficult material to work with: too obvious and you have the literary equivalent of a Twilight Zone episode where the camera changes at the last second and you say, ‘oh, I get it now,’ but then never return to the episode because the shock has worn off; too subtle and it ventures into the purely symbolic (perhaps surrealistic), where nothing has any relation to reality. Merino’s own working definition of the fantastic would be helpful before going on much farther:

Coincido con una definición moderna de lo fantástico de Roger Caillois: una ruptura estrepitosa del orden habitual, textualmente <<una irrupción de lo inadmisible en el seno inalterable de la legalidad cotidiana>>. Otroa cosa sería lo maravilloso, en que lo aparentemente inadmisible resulta la regla general, como los cuentos de hadas o El señor de los anillos, pero sin duda no estoy dotado para ello, pues a la hora de escribir, la realidad está en mí demasiado al acecho.

I agree with Roger Caillois’ modern definition of the fantastic: a resounding rupture of habitual order of things, textually “a burst of the impermissible in the unalterable breast of the routine laws of everyday.” Something altogether different would be the marvelous where the apparently impermissible is the rule, such as in fairy tales or The Lord of the Rings, but without a doubt I’m not blessed with that skill because when it comes time to write, reality is lying in wait for me too much.

For Merino, the fantastic is that little explosion of unreality in an otherwise real world that opens new perspectives on reality. What it isn’t, is fantasy which is more concerned with its own fictive reality. It is an important distinction because the interplay between reality, which is often described in a realist tradition, and the fantastical can occasionally seem jarring. However, the shock of the rupture in the habitual that he mentions usually overcomes the Twilight Zone moment. And as you will see, there is a great fluidity in his writing that can make the occasional disappointment worth reading.

El niño lobo del cine Mari (The Wolf Child of the Mari Theater) is perhaps the best story in the collection in terms of a pure mix of a narrative and the fantastic. One day when an old movie theater is the process of destruction, the construction workers find a little boy amongst the ruins. It turns out he has been missing for 30 years yet has no aged a day since he disappeared. It is a mystery, but despite all pleas to tell his story the boy won’t explain what happened. In desperation, the doctor looking after the boy takes him to another theater. It would stand to reason he likes movies. The doctor watches him carefully at first, but caught up in the movie she doesn’t see him go behind the screen and enter the movie where he disappears again. Here, Merino mixes the two streams of reality, that of the everyday and that of the cinema, locating our dreams not just in the films themselves, but in the portals to them, as if they formed a kind of collective memory that lasts as long as the movie does. Moreover, he expands the idea of a fiction not as something that you only observe, but as something you participate in and extend. It is that extension of the story, or the bifurcation of the story into multiple paths, that reappears throughout the book.

You can see that bifurcation La casa de los dos portales (The House With two Entrances). In the story a group of boys break into an old abandoned mansion. After exploring the house they find a small passage way to an a room that has its own door to the exterior. They go through it and head to their respective homes. But nothing is right. Family members who were dead are alive or vice a versa; homes are not kept in the same ways. In short, it is a parallel world, one that is terrifying to the boys. That parallelism also links back to the idea of the double, of the other self, a classic trope in Spanish language fiction, but here it extends to a whole world.

Both stories come from his collection Cuentos del reino secreto (Stories from the Secret Kingdom) published in 1982. They show an interest in stories where the line between reality and the fantastic exists, but is not a commented on within the text. In his latter works, his short stories are much more open to direct introspection of the limits of reality. In El viajero perdido (The Lost Traveler) and Bifurcaciones (Bifurcations) he explores the way linear construction of reality is really a series of forking paths (to quote Borges) one takes, but are also mental paths one takes as they construct the narrative for themselves when they remember.  El viajero perdido follows a writer as he tries to create a story about a traveler who he stumbles on one night. The story though twists between what the writer struggles to write and the trip his wife is having. With each new strange encounter he comes up with it is mirrored in his wife’s world. As he brings the story to conclusion she comes closer to home. And with in the wife’s world she comes across the traveler that first promoted him to write the story, bringing the different bifurcations of story together. Merino leaves the story open as to what will happen, as if stories can never be finished.

In Bifurcaciones, a middle aged man is invited to a college reunion. He begins to wonder what ever happened to a girl, Pilar, he had once been infatuated with. He wanders down by where she used to live and he runs in to her. Feeling lucky, they spend some time together and he thinks his dreams have come true. Then she begins to ask him why he never wrote after ‘that summer?’ He has no idea of what has happened, but she creates a whole different life they led together. Yet he begins to believe it, rewriting his past. Yet when he finally goes to the reunion she’s not there and yet another bifurcations of the past occur. Merino places layer after layer of bifurcations so that man is rewriting his past and going through memories of events he never had. With each memory he recreates his whole history summed up towards the end of the story when he tries to make sense of the differing stories he is living.

Su esfuerzo por esclarecer la contradcción de aquellos veranos contrapuestos le hizo comprender que el encuentro en el vestíbulo era un misterioso punto de bifurcación, donde su memoria parecía titubear, aunque al cabo siguiese con más seguridad el camino que lo lleveaba a un período de angustiosa apatía, a sus primeros empleos, a la vinculaión con el bufete de su tío Jaime, en una ciudad del sur, al encuentro de Pilar y todo lo que, desembocando en el día que recibió la invitactión de Carlos Campoy, parecía formar la urdimbre verdadera de su vida durante aquellos veinticinoc años.

His effort to clear up the contradiction of those opposing summers made him understand that the meeting in the vestibule was a mysterious point of bifurcation where his memory seemed to hesitate, although after following with more certainty the road that took him to a period of agonizing apathy, to his first jobs, to his joining his uncle Jaime’s firm in a southern city, to the meeting with Pilar and everything that flowing from the day that he received the invitation from Carlos Campoy, seemed to form the true plot of his life during those twenty five years.

Finally, it would be remiss if a few comments about his language were overlooked. In more than a few stories the role of language itself is the center of story and even in one story when a man looses his ability not only to speak, but think in words, he disappears from reality. So for a writer with such wide ranging interests it would be natural that he prose have a certain power to it. In Papilio Siderum, a story that reworks Chuang Tzu’s story of the butterfly where a man dreams he is a butterfly then wakes as a man is unable to tell the distinction between the two. In Merino’s telling the story takes on a deeper and wider celebration of the paradoxes of memory and he captures both the transitory nature of memory, but the beauty in it to (sorry no translation; I’m out of time).

Intentaré empezar diciendo que, después de dejar la terraza, nos fuimos cada uno a nuestro cuarto, y que yo me encontraba desvelado, porque la presencia de Elisa haviía despertado en mí el enardecimiento de los veranos de la adolescencia, aquel tiempo en que hasta la propia luz y los olores del día eran capaces de provocar en mi ánimo una sucesión de impresiones indefinibles y hasta contradictorias, un tempr confuso la luz implacable del mediodía, que a su vez despertaba en los arbustos esos aromas secos tan estimulantes de la placidez, o cierta euforia la larga luz del atardecer, cuando sin embargo el olor humedo de los parados me incitaba a senir la congoja de alguna pérdida que no podía indentificar, y en cada momento y en cada paraje una conciencia tiubeante, que ya no tenía la capacidad de embeleso de la infancia pero que tampoco podía apoyarse en esas seguridades que al parecer eran privilegio de los adultos.

While every story in La realidad quebradiza: Antología de cuentos didn’t excite me as these did (a couple were too much in the ghost story vein, something I’m not much interested in), on the whole is a successful mix of the fantastic and reality, and the majority of the stories are fascinating reads. The selection of these short stories and micro stories, almost prose poems at times, which I didn’t even have a chance to discuss, leaves me wondering what other intriguing work remains in the volumes that these stories were selected from. Merino is definitely a maestro of the fantastic and Páginas de Espuma has put together an excellent collection to demonstrate that.

The Short Story, The Class Room, and New Directions Forward: Fakes Reviewed at LARB

The Los Angles Review of Books has an excellent review of David Shields and Matthew Vollmer’s Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts. What is so interesting about (in addition to the book itself) is the author, Johannes Lichtman, goes into some detail about the foundational text books of the MFA scene, how they have shaped writing and how this book may too, for good and bad. As I’m always interested in how the short story is developed I found it quite interesting. I’m less and less inclined to like the MFA experience of teaching writing. I didn’t get an MFA, but I can remember my undergrad days and the heavy Carver influence running through the whole thing.

AS MOST PEOPLE KNOW, it’s not easy to make money writing. Young writers read of a mythical past when aspiring authors could work for “newspapers” in exotic locales like Kansas City, but even if there is still a newspaper operating out of some soon-to-be-abandoned warehouse on the banks of the Missouri, I bet it isn’t hiring. The BFA/MFA track has become one of the last refuges for young writers before they start fighting their way into the welfare state of grants and fellowships, and even if we remain undecided on the question of whether writing can be taught — if I have to read another essay asking that question I may run away to Kansas City myself — we have definitively declared that the teaching and learning of creative writing can be a good way to make money (or at least to postpone the need to do so).

For this reason, contemporary fiction anthologies have never been more proliferant than they are now. Classroom texts — most often either the Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction edited by Lex Williford and Michael Martone or the Vintage Book of Short Stories edited by Tobias Wolff — are where many undergraduate writers (weaned on high school classics, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, and Chuck Palahniuk) get their first doses of modern short fiction. These books answer the burning question: what are real writers writing today?

Which makes it such a shame that the two most popular anthologies offer such limited answers. The Vintage and Scriber collections feature eleven writers in common, but more importantly, they draw from a common aesthetic. Both favor a kind of story that generally relies on a first page/first sentence hook, a second page circling back to explain how we came to this interesting place, and, after the necessary information has been dumped on the reader, a series of events that lead to some sort of change in the protagonist: a change which usually takes place epiphanically, when the story has, to paraphrase Stuart Dybek, shifted from the narrative to the lyrical mode.

There’s nothing wrong with writing stories in this manner; some of the best American fiction follows just such a traditional blueprint. But the Vintage anthology — which, published in 1994, is starting to feel a bit dated — suggests that this is pretty much the only way to write a story. While the Scribner book offers more ethnic diversity than the Vintage anthology, it likewise doesn’t put much effort into diversity of narrative approach. To the latter’s credit, it does include work by Junot Diaz, A.M. Homes, and Daniel Orozco, but woefully absent from its pages are David Foster Wallace, Lydia Davis, and Dave Eggers, three of our most stylistically influential authors. As such, the Scribner anthology is pretty much the worst fiction anthology out there. Except for every other anthology.

I’ll also point you to another review of the book that is quite positive. The entirety is below:

David Shields and Matthew Vollmer, eds., Fakes: Shields’ ongoing project to smash the support beams of conventional fiction (or maybe just expose them; hard to tell sometimes) clearly led him to help assemble this collection, which is largely made up of parodies of everyday forms of writing. (Jack Pendarvis’ “Our Spring Catalog” brilliantly sends up publishing-speak.) But fiction can’t survive on satire alone—one hopes—and the best stories here thrive on taking their artificial formats and making something sincere from them: Charles Yu’s “Problems for Self-Study,” Charles McLeod’s “National Treasures,” Caron A. Levis’ “Permission Slip.”

My Article on Four UnTranslated Short Stories Is Up at the Quarterly Conversation

My article about four untranslated Spanish short story writers is now up at the Quarterly Conversation. It turned out really well and is a much longer form article than I normally write coming in at a little over 3K words. While I think the stories mentioned in the article are great I had to leave out so many different ones that it seems at times I haven’t written that much. Writing about short stories is always hard because you end up with some many different ones and you have to try come up with some sort of thematic element to link them together. This was esspecially the case with these four, but I think I was able to do it.

Collections of short stories are generally considered difficult to market, and thus they’re often looked down upon by editors who acquire new works of literature in the United States. This fact is no less true when it comes to editors who acquire works of foreign literature translated into English, an already notably under-represented group. To make matters worse, what stories that do get translated are often lumped into anthologies of what you might call stories from over there, which obscure the full range of an author’s talent beneath the idea that one story is a representative sample.

This is all very important in the case of Spanish literature, which in recent decades has seen a rebirth of the possibilities of the short story. For authors of what’s called the New Spanish Short Story, this tendency has hidden a great burst of creativity that began in the early 1980s and flowered during the 1990s and 2000s (the few stories that have been translated have been relegated to obscure editions unavailable in the United States). From the stories of the fantastic by Cristina Fernádez Cubas to the structural inventions of Hipólito G. Navarro and the surrealism of Ángel Zapata, Spanish short story writers have created an exciting and diverse body of work marked by its openness and dedication to pushing the boundaries of the form.

I  have also commented on other stories from Navarro and Cubas. The rest of the Quarterly Conversation looks very good, too, and definately worth reading. They have a nicely timed overview of the works of Mercè Rodoreda. (You my reviews of Death in Spring and her short stories)

Etgar Keret Story at Guernica

Guernica has a good short story from Etgar Keret. It has fun with the idea of the writer and is one of his stories that touches more directly on the troubles. The story is from his forthcoming book to be published in April, I believe.

“Tell me a story,” the bearded man sitting on my living-room sofa commands. The situation, I must admit, is anything but pleasant. I’m someone who writes stories, not someone who tells them. And even that isn’t something I do on demand. The last time anyone asked me to tell him a story, it was my son. That was a year ago. I told him something about a fairy and a ferret—I don’t even remember what exactly—and within two minutes he was fast asleep. But here the situation is fundamentally different. Because my son doesn’t have a beard, or a pistol. Because my son asked for the story nicely, and this man is simply trying to rob me of it.

The Girl on the Firdge by Etgar Keret – A Review

The Girl on the Fridge
Etgar Keret
Farrar, Straus and Grioux 2008, pg 171

Etgar Keret’s work is often marked by a sense that one is in a slightly different reality. It isn’t surrealism, just a place where you might be able to buy for 9.99 the meaning of life. In the stories of Keret that purchase never really works out as one would want, and usually the charters don’t so much as regret their decisions as abandon them as just yet another of life’s let downs.  The stories in The Girl on the Fridge aren’t quite as fantastic (see my review of The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God), but there is still that sense that what one wants doesn’t always work out. Keret’s stories are very short and he has the ability to zero in on those moments with great precision, stripping away everything except those small moments of disappointment.

In The Real Winner of the Preliminary Games, a group of men get together every few weeks to talk and drink. They have a ritual to it and the evenings allow them to not so much find answers to their problems, but find that they are not so bad.  Towards the end one of the men says he’s feed up and is going to commit suicide. His friend, Eitan, talks him out of it. But Eitan, in a moment that has that feeling of melancholy that is just below the surface of many Keret stories takes out his M 16.

“If I want to, I can shoot,” he said out loud. He ordered his brain to pull the trigger. His finger obeyed, but stopped halfway. He could do it, he wasn’t scared. He just had to make sure he wanted to. He thought about it for a few seconds. Maybe in the general scheme of things he couldn’t find any meaning to life, but on a smaller scale it was okay. Not always, but a lot of the time. He wanted to live, he really did. That’s all there was to it. Eitan gve his finger another order to make sure he wasn’t kidding himself. It still seemed prepared to do whatever he wanted. He put the gun on half cock and pushed the safety back in. If not for those four beers, he’d never even have tried it. He would have made up an excuse, said it was just a dumb test, that it didn’t mean anything. But like Uzi said, that was the whole point. He put the gun back in the drawer and went into the bathroom to puke. then he washed his face and soaked his head in the sink. Before drying himself, he took a look in the mirror. A skinny guy, we hair, a little pale, like that runner on TV. He wasn’t jumping or yelling or anything, but he’d never felt this good.

Eitan puts the gun away because that is what one does. He then feels a rush. Is it from the test or the rush that comes after throwing up? Whatever it is, it isn’t the answer to anything, just the relief from melancholic doubt. Tomorrow it may return and when the men return to the bar they’ll talk each other into living again because that’s what one does.

In one of his more fantastical ones, Freeze, a man gains the power to make the world freeze. When the world freezes he takes the opportunity to have sex with the best looking women (rape is what he is actually doing although the character would never admit it). At first it works out great for him, but eventually some one tells him that is not good because the women aren’t asking for it. So he then begins a series of experiments, telling the women why they are in their frozen state to scream during sex. Nothing satisfies him until he realizes all he has to do is tell the woman to love him for himself. Of course that works and the woman loves him. All through the story, though, you have a man getting what he wants only to find it is what he wants and in relationships is isn’t just the one person that matters. He is satisfied, but there is always the lingering doubt that what the relationship, any relationship is built on are demands that only one wants. That he can command someone to love him for himself is in of it self contradictory and at the same time a parody of what should be a operating principle for couples. It is a disturbing story that leaves one wondering what loving one for oneself really means.

Keret often uses the perception of children to expose the strangeness of the adult world. In Moral Something, a man is sentenced to hang and the kids who have seen the sentencing on TV try to understand what happens we someone is hung. Since the adults are trying to protect them from the information and the kids only have roumor they have to experiment. They hang a stray cat, but of course it settles nothing because they don’t know if they have done it right. The boys argue over it and when the prettiest girl in school walks by she tells them they are all animals. Keret in that little scene is able to create what the adult world looks like without the veneer of rules, laws, and moral codes. The kids, too, are on that ever present search for the answers that never exist. They don’t know yet, as Eitan in The Real Winner, that there are only approximations, things you settle on because they work even if they aren’t what everyone else is doing.

There are dozens of brief little encounters such as these that show Keret as a master of the form. His vision of a world that never quite operates with the same rules as ours does makes him one of the most interesting short story writers around. While The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God is a little more fantastical and, therefore, more interesting, The Girl on the Fridge is still a welcome addition to his body of work.