Etgar Keret – Four Stories (6th June – 9th June)

After reading Nik Perring’s excellent debut collection ‘Not So Perfect,’ I thought I would take a look at a writer Nik talks about a lot on his blog. Nik describes Etgar Keret as ‘brilliant. Possibly the best.’ Four Stories is a chap book style collection including a B. G. Rudolph Lecture in Judaic Studies given by Keret. The lecture provides insight into Keret’s background as the child of Holocaust survivors and the impact that has had on his fiction, while the four stories deal closely with the experience of being the child of survivors.

As you might expect from the subject matter, the stories are powerful and challenging in places, but in a good way. The story that affected me most has to be ‘A Foreign Language’ which manages to move through various anecdotes related by the narrator, showing the impact of his parents’ wartime experiences resonating through their lives afterward, before proper breaking the reader’s heart with the final, devastating image. All four of the stories benefit from Keret’s crystal clear style as well as an ability to weave various strands in and out of each other, drawing them together seemingly effortlessly at the close of each one.

I have since purchased a copy of Keret’s collection ‘The Nimrod Flipout,’ which will be my next challenge text. After reading the almost handful of stories in ‘Four Stories,’ I was eager to get my hands on more of his work. If the stories in ‘The Nimrod Flipout’ are as well drawn and powerful as the four I have already read, I am in for a treat.

Mark Richards – The Ice at the Bottom of the World (10th June – 19th June)

Bit of a mixed bag this one. Mark Richard is a prize-winning author of short fiction, ‘The Ice at the Bottom of the World,’ winning the 1990 PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for a first published book of fiction. His prose is remarkable, full of poetic descriptions that seem to capture just the right words in just the right order all the time. Every story in this collection features some wonderful sections of fluid, mellifluous prose, even the stories in this collection that left me a little cold.

Which brings me to why I say this collection, for me, is a mixed bag. Of the ten stories I fully engaged with only five. Of those five I loved four. Interestingly, those stories tended to be focused on families, and more interestingly, my two favourite stories, ‘Strays’ and ‘This is us, excellent,’ dealt with the trial of young brothers growing up. As a family man and a father of two boys, this probably says more about me than Richard’s writing.

While I can’t say I really enjoyed the other stories in the collection, each one showed me something about how to craft a particular type of short story. I would recommend reading this collection, as each story is expertly crafted and, for this writer, showed me just how far I have to go before I get even close to the level of craft on display here. If you only read one story by Richard, try ‘This is us, excellent,’ probably the closest thing to perfect I’ve read recently.