Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Etgar Keret's “One Gram Short,” translated from the Hebrew by Nathan Englander, was originally published in the December 1, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.
In “One Gram Short,” Keret combines dead serious with a light tone, an inviting combination, given the complexity of life in Israel today.
Keret is bringing out a book this winter, The Seven Good Years, a memoir which tells about the years between his son’s birth and his father’s death, and which will surely also be an account of life in Israel in that time. Given the way Keret is able to combine dark and light in “One Gram Short,” I am intrigued by the promise of the memoir.
In a Haaretz interview earlier this year (here), Keret considers the question of living in Israel, staying in Israel.
I’m a son of Holocaust survivors — not at the ideological level, but at the instinctive level. I watched my parents get up in the morning, rejoicing that they lived in a place where they were not persecuted for their origins and could speak in their own language. Where they could be a free people in our land [Keret is quoting from “Hatikva,” Israel’s national anthem]. Somehow, I absorbed that this was something really essential and important. My parents suffered a lot until they came to this place. Because of that, it’s hard for me, at the reflexive level, to even consider the idea of not living here.
In that same interview, Keret talks about the joyousness of his childhood:
Keret says that his parents named him Etgar — “challenge” in Hebrew — “because giving birth to me was a challenge. I was born into a reality where the fact that I was alive was already a kind of wild success. So when my father woke up in the morning to see me jumping on the bed, saying, ‘Father, wake up,’ he was happy even if it was six o’clock in the morning. Besides that, it feels very nice to grow up that way. It also teaches you to love that situation. Today, my son gets up at six in the morning and wakes me up, and when he wakes me up I get up gladly. We can take a bicycle trip or go to the beach, or sit in a café and talk about something.”
I recommend this interview. Keret talks about being a writer, reading reviews, where his stories come from, and the entire interview is suffused with a kind of open, positive personality that is wonderful to meet. He says, for instance, about reviews and readers: “The relationship between the reader and the text is a unique one. It’s a dialogue, a meeting.”
In “One Gram Short,” a young man goes to a coffee shop every morning in order to talk “a little” with an “adorable” waitress. Sometimes he even makes her laugh, and he says that when she laughs, it “does [him] good.”
He’d ask her out, but he’s afraid if he does, and she says no, these very pleasant mornings (and all their promise) will come to an end. So he comes up with the idea that he should ask her to smoke some pot with him, given that he’s heard she likes “recreational drugs.”
The reader can sense the (crackpot) reasoning here. If he uses pot as a lure, even if she doesn’t like him, she’ll still go out with him, and he won’t lose his lovely mornings.
Here’s why I loved this story. One of the things I love about my husband is that he makes me laugh. I think that in a lot of long relationships that’s part of the glue. I love hearing the couples in my family laugh together. Keret’s couple, I realize right away, has a possible future — he thinks she’s adorable, and he can make the beauty laugh. But the young man has a long way to go to make it happen.
Well,and I also loved this story because it had a crackpot scheme in it that goes awry and causes the young man to come to his senses about what a date should be and about what it is he actually feels for the adorable young woman.
The story also deals with the Arab-Israeli situation, but in a non-documentary kind of way. Reporting is not the aim here, so much as the manner fiction can provide a flash of authenticity. In fact, in his interview with Deborah Treisman (here), Keret says that one of the goals of the story is to “reach an authentic moment.”
The young man’s authentic moment is when he senses that not only would he like to make the young woman laugh every morning for the rest of his life, but he also would like to shield her from sadness, or at least be the one to bear with her any inevitable sadness. Keret doesn’t say this in so many words — he merely tells the story so the reader gets it.
The young man’s crackpot scheme to obtain pot involves a quid pro quo: in order to get the hard-to-get pot, he must show up in court to give “support” for a couple whose daughter was killed in an accident with a rich Arab driver.
The telling image is that in the midst of the chaotic court scene, the young man has a vision: he sees the beautiful young waitress holding his hand and crying.
It is as if she is crying for all of them — the couple who lost the child, the Arab who drove the car, the stupid young men yelling in court, the racism implicit in the yelling, the two peoples at war, as well as the child who died. It is as if the young man gets it, that he must have someone beside him who makes him feel things, someone whose presence makes him see straight.
In the end, the young man asks the waitress to a movie — the very invitation he feared would be “too much.” And he asks her to see Gravity with him — because, he says, it is 3D and you wear funny glasses, and, although he never says it, because it is about human resilience and connection and the beauty of existence.
That is what I liked — that Keret could make me feel all that in such a brief space, with such a light touch. I am surely interested in his memoir. I want to know more. It is that utter seriousness expressed with such a light touch I find so compelling.?