January 2, 2012

"Creative Writing"

By Etgar Keret
Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston
~1700 words

A third-person narrative told from the perspective of a husband, Aviad, whose wife Maya signs up for a creative-writing class several months after a miscarriage. Aviad observes her progress and eventually enrolls in a similar class.

Most of the narrative focuses on the quirky content of Maya's writings, which offer intriguing parallels to the trauma she has experienced: people who reproduce by splitting in half, a woman who can't see the husband she has stopped loving, another woman who gives birth to a cat. Perhaps more meaningful than the content of the stories is the way in which the creative act is shown to expose—and to some extent to perpetuate—a relationship in crisis. At the end of the frame narrative, when Aviad confesses that he doesn't have an ending to the tale he has just written—about a fish transformed into a man and back into a fish—the parallel with his marriage is corroborated.

This brief story offers much to admire. Some readers will enjoy it for the fanciful quality of the inner narratives; others will appreciate coming to know characters through their literary creations; still others will revel in the metafictional conceit of a story about storytelling. Sharp quotidian details include a male creative-writing instructor who reeks of body lotion and a female one who wears a head scarf and, according to rumor, "lived in a settlement in the occupied territories and had cancer." Though Keret's language is not always as crisp as one might hope, that may have something to do with the translation. In any case, "Creative Writing" is a compelling read.


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