by Etgar Keret
translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen
from the June 27, 2022 issue of The New Yorker
It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a story from Etgar Keret, the last being “Fly Away” in 2017. I haven’t really loved any of his stories, and have actively disliked a few as well. But there’s always hope! Here we get “Mitzvah,” translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. And here is how it starts:
Yogev and I sit on the tattered couch in his brother’s living room, waiting for the Molly to kick in.
Yogev’s brother is a dealer. He hates it when people call him a dealer. Says he’s just buying for friends. But he’s the mother of all dealers. Looks like a lizard. Cold-blooded. Takes money from his own little brother, but gives him a thirty-per-cent discount, like he’s generosity personified. While we wait for the high to kick in, he drones on about how this is primo shit, super pricey, and how he paid top dollar to the Dutchman who sold it to him and now he’s losing money on us. Yeah, right, Dutchman. I guarantee he bought the whole stash from some Arab kid in Jaffa. “When this shit goes to your head, it’s straight to the penthouse!” he gushes. “Rocket launch. No stops.”
So let us know below if you liked this one!
I’ve been hoping someone would comment on this but I can kind of see why no one has. This is a vignette and it tells an amusing story–which does have SOME greater cultural resonance such as the religious aspects of Israel and those that are shared with any other nation where youth have enough free time to party—but that’s about it. I enjoyed it. I don’t have much else to say but who knows what missives this might inspire?
This story resists understanding by combining opposites that the reader can interpret as being either funny or if one views it seriously, as a somewhat bizarre religious meditation. No matter how raunchy one behaves either by substance abuse or being overwhelmed by physical desire or by a combination of the two, still one is a child of God could be the theme of this story. It seems a bit like a small Waiting for Godot story of three people, maybe spiritually “in the trash can” waiting for some sort of blessing or redemption to happen their way. It also seems faintly critical of male toxicity in that the protagonist craves feminine attention but when it appears, can only reduce it into physical objectification. Thereby estranging himself from his life and a possibly better life as it somehow exists for others. The one strange optimistic part of this story is that no matter how messed up a human might be, still creation might still send them some sort of small kindness if they’ve previously extended the same to others or another. The somewhat muted vulgar quality of the overall situation almost probably totally blocks a reader’s attention. But the best part of this story is its ambiguity within the built-in tension of waiting to be good or experience something good while entrapped in bad dysfunctional behavioral patterns that won’t ever lead to any really good thing or will they? Or is the protagonist stuck in the fundamental existential situation of life having no meaning or purpose, that it’s just a one time party we should all just enjoy to the fullest?
Thanks, Larry. That was a pretty excellent analysis. I enjoyed the story well enough but just didn’t see any “deeper” levels and you certainly provided discussion of them.