Etgar Keret: “Creative Writing”

Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.  Etgar Keret’s “Creative Writing” (tr. from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston) was originally published in the January 2, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.

Click for a larger image.

This is an incredibly short story — only four columns — and for me it succeeded in presenting a troubled marriage very well in that short space.  Aviad and Maya  are not troubled by thoughts of infidelity, and there is nothing to suggest they are not in love.  Rather, they’ve just experienced the trauma of a miscarriage, and they haven’t found a way to deal with this together.  Aviad, for his part, “could always bury himself in work, but since the miscarriage, she never left the house.” 

Maya is encouraged to take a creative writing class.  Here is how “Creative Writing” begins:

The first story Maya wrote was about a world in which people split themselves in two instead of reproducing.  In that world, every person could, at any given moment, turn into two beings, each one half his/her age.  Some chose to do this when they were young; for instance, an eighteen-year-old might split into two nine-year-olds.  Others would wait until they’d established themselves professionally and financially and go for it only in middle age.  The heroine of Maya’s story was splitless.  She had reached the age of eighty and, despite constant social pressure, insisted on not splitting.  At the end of the story, she died.

As Maya is writing the story, Aviad gives his input.  He doesn’t really get the story and thinks the ending needs a lot of work.  Maya is thrilled, though, when at class she is complimented by everyone, including — particularly — the professor.  This is the first sign that Aviad and Maya are dealing with things in different ways and that Aviad cannot comprehend what Maya is saying.  That some professor got it only infuriates Aviad more.  It infuriates him, in fact, to the point that he goes and buys the professor’s book of short stories (the novel was too long) and even signs up for a creative writing class himself.

As I said, the story is very short.  It’s made even shorter due to the fact that there are summaries of thee of Maya’s stories and one of Aviad’s.  Consequently, it’s a story of emotion much more than plot.  And it worked very well for me.

5 thoughts on “Etgar Keret: “Creative Writing””

  1. edgar says:

    Thank you for the link.
    The different stories are life’s metaphors. It’s pleasing in rereading the article slowly a few times the landscapes changed each time. Is that how one should write and what writing should be?

  2. Aaron says:

    Edgar, I’d go a step further — since I liked this story a lot — and say that Keret’s being far more specific than “life.” These stories are all reflections of Maya and Aviad’s fears and joys; their attempts to find, in fiction, a way of expression what they cannot deal with in reality. For Maya, it’s at first coping with her miscarriage, then her changing feelings for Aviad, and then resolving herself to a second pregnancy. There are strong implications that the father of this new child is not Aviad’s (perhaps the professor’s?), and yet she’s made the choice to raise him *with* Aviad, whom she’s decided she *can* see (unlike the protagonist of her second story, “Half a Mustache”). I love that you can imagine her sorting things out through her imagination.

    As for the more tragic Aviad, he sees himself now as a literal fish out of water: he’s successful, sure, but all these years down the road, recent tragedy with his wife aside, he’s stuck wondering what he really wants, and unlike his wife, he *doesn’t* have an ending resolved in his mind. Not knowing what you want can be a terrible thing — not writer’s block, at that point, but life’s block.

    In any case, I loved this one. More thoughts here: http://bit.ly/zBaPBZ

  3. edgar says:

    Thank you for your further reflections.

    The Fish story-Aviad said he didn’t have an ending. But it is I thought is the ending -realizing all his achievements were nothing since he was not able to taste the salt of the sea and he was a fish.

  4. Ken says:

    I think the stories within the story are perhaps a bit less literal than Aaron interprets them as being. Certainly, his interpretations are suggested by Keret, but I’m not sure he’s so clear about them being metaphorical. I found this dissatisfying, but that was the point. Tales pop out, we try to finish them, interpret them, we partially succeed, life goes on. Would it be banal to call a story like this an appetizer?

  5. Trevor says:

    I’ve posted my very brief thoughts above — finally!

    Aaron, I like your interpretations very much, and I’m delighted the story succeeds in conveying so much that is going on through abstract short fictions. That said, I’m also delighted that none of Maya’s fiction might mean what Aviad thinks it means. Since this story is told from Aviad’s perspective (albeit in third person), we get his insecurities as we read the summaries of Maya’s stories.

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