There are things one doesn't expect to hear from a girlfriend after she says she has a secret. The narrator of Israeli writer Etgar Keret's relationship horror story "Fatso" assumes it's the usual—sleeping with someone else ("I'm a whore, they always wind up saying"). But the truth is far better, for readers at least: "What if I told you that at night I turn into a heavy, hairy man, with no neck, with a gold ring on his pinky, would you still love me?" After going out wining and dining all night with his girlfriend's hairy, rotund, nighttime incarnation, the narrator realizes that Fatso is tons of fun. He does still love her.
The whole story is only four pages, but dear readers, these are four pages you can't not read. Same goes for the rest of Keret's new collection, The Nimrod Flip Out, a fresh breath of honest weirdness that doesn't forget the heart of its characters when dishing out the creepy. In "Halibut," a man undergoing a minor life crisis argues with the talking fish he orders in a restaurant. The entree told him to take the first plane out of town, but he disagreed: "The fish shut up again and so did I. Almost a minute later, it added, 'Never mind, forget it. I'm depressed.'"
On the surface, these stories have a mordant, chatty humor. One story's title says it all: "Actually, I've Had Some Phenomenal Hard-Ons Lately." But tragedy lurks not far below. The title story starts out in typical Keret territory: Some Israeli friends (all vets) goofing around Sinai experience a haunting by their friend Nimrod, a suicide. Things turn to black comedy when the narrator muses about leaving his buddy Miron alone with Nimrod, to which Miron says, with a hint of desperation, "Good thing you're ugly."
Normally, writers who break structural boundaries as Keret does, like the triple-named heroic duo of David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Safran Foer, do so with excess, piling on the references, asides, footnotes, standup comedy routines, and metafictional tangents until one just surrenders. By contrast, Keret's fiction is thinly packed and calmly paced, gobsmacking the reader when she least expects it. He uses one word when five will do.