“Fly Already” by Etgar Keret is a book full of contradictions. Composed of twenty-two short stories, Keret explores topics ranging from mundane to unsettling, no two stories exactly alike. Some deal with topics that could loosely be put under the umbrella of science fiction, others are just about interpersonal relationships and how they can sometimes go very wrong.
Right from the start, readers are plunged into Keret’s unforgiving world when the titular story, “Fly Already,” features the protagonist trying to talk a man off a ledge with his son by his side. This sets the tone for the rest of the stories that follow. His characters deal with heartbreak and rejection and unsatisfying lives; all the while the audience takes it in as entertainment.
Keret’s use of first-person point-of-view lessens the distance between reader and character. Most of the stories are in this perspective, each one flowing into the next in a way that they could almost all be about the same person, but for subtle differences. This makes the stories personal, like the characters are speaking directly to the readers, but also universal. When those stories are stripped down, they could happen to anyone of us. As a result, they feel uncomfortably close.
This makes the ones that aren’t in the first person feel that much more jarring, which I can only imagine is by design. These benefit from that distance, making the reader a spectator to drop you into a more unlikely scenario than the other stories, be it angels or a secret facility taking care of rapidly aging orphans. These stories aren’t any more comforting than the others, though. The suspension of disbelief that they encourage allows him to come to conclusions even more disconcerting.
If I were to pinpoint a particular theme running throughout the book, it would be Keret’s slightly pessimistic view of life. It’s like he’s looking at humanity with a cynical eye that speaks to you, the reader, as if you are privy to some joke the characters aren’t in on. As he says in the story “Fungus”:
“The fact that you invent something doesn’t exempt you from responsibility, and unlike life, where you can shrug and point up to God in heaven, there’s no excuse here. In a story, you’re God. If your protagonist failed, it’s only because you made him fail. If something bad happened to him, it’s only because you wanted it to. You wanted to watch him wallow in his own blood.” (168)
This meta line of thinking almost acts as the thesis of the book. Characters cheat, their loved one’s die, and at times they are obnoxious and self-serving, but it’s all on purpose. The only question is, what purpose is that? It felt to me that he writes about the ugly parts of human interaction because it holds up a mirror to what may be happening in your own life, forcing you to face it.
When looking back at the book in hindsight, it feels even more cohesive than when I was initially reading it. Some of the stories flew by while others stuck with me until long after I read them, but all of them made me stop to absorb them completely when I finished them. “Fly Already” is the type of book whose meaning will change for you depending on where you are in life. Different stories and characters will speak to you and you will take from it what you need. Altogether, I welcome the discomfort that Keret’s stories gave me and I look forward to coming back to it to see what else it can give me.