After listening to Etgar Keret’s entrancing stories about his mother that he read on This American Life, I knew I needed to read more of his books. What arrived first from the library was The Seven Good Years: A Memoir. I must note that it’s the most unconventional memoir I’ve probably ever read. There is very little through-line, and no sense of a hero’s journey, as one would often find in this genre. Think about Educated by Tara Westover or Eat a Peach by David Change. In each there is a journey, and through that journey, which has some chronological structure, a story of the person, of their increasing understanding or experience of the world, evolves and grows. In Keret, much like the stories on the radio about his mother, there is something holding a basketful of short anecdotes together. In this case, the characters are Keret himself (of course), his son, wife, and ultimately, his father. But other than the book being divided up into seven sections, based on the seven years from his son’s birth until his father’s death, there is no structure, direction or narrative to speak of. The pieces don’t relate to one another. They each stand on their own; a narrative in their own right. To be clear, this is not a criticism. If I’m honest, this is probably how life feels, as a collection of moments, experiences and anecdotes, rather than a journey with a clear through-line and direction.
And each anecdote/chapter is wonderful! Like the stories I heard on the radio, these ones were by equal measure hilarious, insightful, and beautifully written. I often stopped reading (after laughing out loud) to read a passage to my wife. In this way, he reminds me of David Sedaris, a writer for the New Yorker who has made his family fodder for his exceptionally funny stories. And while each chapter has some insight – about himself, Israeli society, or modern Jewish life – it is balanced with Keret’s off-kilter, funny and anxious view of the world.
Keret’s writing style is also worth noting. It is pared down, simple, and straightforward. Where a simple word will do, he never chooses a more complex one, even as his style is playful and engaging. This makes reading him easy and pleasurable, and never a burden.
I have some of his collections of short stories on order from the library (I’ve only ever read one collection before this memoir), and look forward to reading them soon.
Just Because I Liked It:
- The AI program, ChatGPT, is front and centre nowadays, especially in education. Here’s a great article from the educational blog, Cult of Pedagogy, on the ways it can be useful – it’s pretty incredible.
- Wade Davis is an adventurer, academic, botanist, anthropologist, world traveler and more. So as you might imagine, this interview with him by Tim Ferris is fascinating.