cover image THE BUS DRIVER WHO WANTED TO BE GOD: And Other Stories


Etgar Keret, Etgar Kerrett, . . St. Martin's, $19.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-312-26188-7

In this collection of antic tales, Israeli writer Keret chronicles the bitter ironies that determine his characters' daily lives. Set in contemporary Israel, Keret's brief stories—most are three to five pages long—juxtapose a casual realism with regular flashes of unabashed absurdity, portraying characters on the brink of adulthood forced to confront life's chaotic forces—death, justice, love, betrayal—for the first time. Keret attempts to render often sad or tragic events with a light touch, and his plots lend a fantastical, whimsical air to simple, everyday reality: a bus driver is obsessed with keeping his schedule, a stewardess falls in love with a passenger, a man is befriended by an angel in disguise, a woman runs a convenience store at the gate to hell. The most successful stories capitalize on their brevity, their irony sharpening as the plot turns on a dime. "Cocked and Locked," for instance, portrays an Israeli and an Arab soldier in a desert standoff; a clever switch of identity reveals that the enemies we create are often born inside ourselves. But Keret's characters can be carelessly drawn, their shifts in sentiment seeming either flip or predictable, as in the story "Good Intentions," which focuses on a coldhearted killer's decision not to murder a good man. Similarly, the longest story, "Kneller's Happy Campers," which follows a young man on a quest for love in the afterlife, seems disjointed and bland after the charms of its conceit wear off. Without strong individuals, the stories here lose critical mass and remain too disparate to command attention as a collection. (Oct. 8)