‘Heirs’ by Amos Oz

Heirs by Amos Oz, 2007

The magic trick:

Perfect balance of specific realism and vague surrealism

We’re back today to Amoz Oz’s fictional Tel Ihan and his Scenes From Village Life collection. Yesterday, his story “Waiting” sent the protagonist about town looking for answers. Today’s “Heirs” keeps its protagonist homebound, but the problems are no less confounding. A man, vaguely familiar and immediately repulsive, shows up at our protagonist’s home bringing an ominous plan.

It’s a great combination of specific and vague. The man’s situation is laid out for us very clearly. His wife moved to San Diego. His adult children want him to start over. He retires to Tel Ihan to live with his 90-year-old mother. Could not be more realistic and specific, right? But the ominous visitor, meanwhile, brings nothing but implications and half-explanations. It leaves the reader with rich territory for interpretation and analysis.

And that’s quite a trick on Oz’s part.

The selection:

The stranger was not a stranger. Something in his figure repelled but also intrigued Aryeh Zelnik at very first sight, if it was indeed first sight; it seemed to Aryeh Zelnik that he somehow remembered that face, those long arms, almost down to the knees. Remembered vaguely, as if from an entire lifetime ago.

The man parked his car right at the front gate. It was a dusty beige car; its back and side windows were covered with a crazy quilt of colorful stickers, all sorts of pronouncements, warnings, and slogans with exclamation points. He locked the car but took the time to check door by door, shaking each one vigorously to make sure that they were all properly closed. He lightly stroked the hood, then stroked it again, as if it were not a car but an old horse, tied to a fence and given a friendly pat to indicate that the wait would not be long. Then he pushed open the gate and strode toward the front porch, which was shaded by a grape arbor. His walk looked jerky and a bit painful, as if he were stepping barefoot on hot sand.

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