One Gram Short by Etgar Keret, 2014
The magic trick:
Forcing the reader away from comedy to confront tragedy
This story begins like a Seth Rogen stoner comedy. Perfect, the reader thinks, for kicking back and forgetting about all the sadness in the world for a few minutes. This, of course, is exactly what the narrator is trying to do too. Living in a country where war is never too far away, he seeks escape through some weed, a night out at the movies, a pretty girl. Fun stuff, right?
Not so fast. Keret sets the reader and his narrator, both, up for a rude awakening. This story isn’t going to be that easy escape. The narrator gets thrown into an ugly courtroom drama full of class and ethnic complications. Try as he might – and he literally attempts a sexual fantasy during the cross-questioning – he can’t block out the tragedy around him. Easy escape isn’t possible for him. And that’s quite a trick on Keret’s part.
The lawyers just keep murmuring the numbers of different sections and articles. I try to picture Shikma and me sitting here in court after our daughter has been run over. We’re destroyed, but we’re supporting each other, and then she whispers in my ear, “I want that fucking murderer to pay.” It’s not fun to imagine, so I stop and instead I start to think about the two of us in my apartment, smoking something, and watching some National Geographic documentary about animals with the TV on mute. Somehow we start making out, and when she clings to me as we kiss I feel her chest crushed up against mine. . . .
“Hyena!” Avri jumps up in the gallery and starts yelling. “What are you smiling at? You killed a little girl. Standing there in your polo shirt like you’re on a cruise—they should let you rot behind bars.”