To The Moon And Back by Etgar Keret, 2016
The magic trick:
Damning any chance at sympathy for the narrator in the first paragraph
Readers tend to like first-person narrators, I think, right? We’re getting their side of the story. We’re seeing the world through their eyes. So we’re probably going to sympathize with them. Usually. I think. Maybe.
Well, “To The Moon And Back” tests the limits of this theory.
Our narrator in the first paragraph eschews all personal responsibility for his problems, plays the victim card, and refers to his son’s mother as a “b**ch and a liar who f**ks every jerk who smiles at her at work.”
Looks like the reader has assumed the point of view of a jerk. Interestingly though, I think the story still wants our sympathy. The narrator is trying to be a good dad, perhaps? He isn’t all bad, perhaps? I’m not sure I ever redeemed him in my mind, but it’s fascinating to watch a story sabotage its protagonist in the first paragraph and then set him about trying to work his way back up. And that’s quite a trick on Keret’s part.
“Why?” I say. “It’s his birthday today. Everyone’s happy, don’t ruin it.” Pimple-Face looks at his phone, which is in my hand, then at me, and runs out of the store. I put Pimple-Face’s phone on the counter and pick up the register. “Now we’ll leave here fast,” I say to Lidor, my voice cheerful, as if this were a game. “We’ll go back home and show Mommy what you got.”
“No,” Lidor says, stamping his feet. “First we fly the helicopter and then we go home. You promised.”
“Yes,” I say in my gentlest voice. “But the cash register is heavy. Daddy can’t carry it and fly the helicopter at the same time. Now the register and tomorrow, right after school, we’ll go fly the helicopter in the park.”
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