Etgar Keret on grammar and hard-ons

Among the riches of PEN America 8 (shortly headed to the printer; subscribe here) is a conversation between George Saunders and Etgar Keret (pictured left in a photo from Time magazine available on Etgar's website). Both writers are smart and hilarious, and they don't disappoint.

The conversation is prefaced by a short, shrewd essay by Saunders and an explosive little Keret story from The Girl on the Fridge (out from FSG in May). It's followed by an older Keret story, "Rabin's Dead."

Here's how the conversation begins:

GEORGE SAUNDERS: I was amazed by your stories, by the quality and quantity of imagination, and the unbelievable overflow of ideas. So I wanted to ask a question that’s probably unfair. Can you pick a story, and talk us through the process—where the seed of the idea was, and how you arrived at the finished story?

ETGAR KERET: Well, there’s one story, I’m not sure I know its name in English correctly. I think it’s “Actually, I Do Have Hard-Ons Lately”? Something like that?

SAUNDERS: Oh yeah. It’s “The Quality of My Hard-Ons is Very Excellent Lately,” I think.

AUDIENCE: “Actually, I’ve Had Some Phenomenal Hard-Ons Lately.”

KERET: That’s it. With that story I can tell you something about the process. I was sitting in a café and somebody with a cell phone at a table nearby said that sentence. He really said, “Actually, I’ve had some phenomenal hard-ons lately.” I looked at him, and he asked for a beer, and then I left. And I kept saying to people I knew, “I was sitting next to this guy, and he said this sentence.” And they’d say, “Um, okay.” And I’d say, “No, no! I really feel that there is something in this sentence, something in the grammar of it.” If he hadn’t said the “actually,” say, it would have been a different sentence, you know?

So I tried to invent this guy in my head. And the first thing that came to mind was that he had an affair with a woman at work. And what makes him feel best about this affair is that whenever they go to dinner, he can ask for the receipt, and it’s tax-deductible because she works with him. So he can cheat on his wife and on the IRS at the same time.

SAUNDERS: Incredible aphrodisiac.

Etgar is coming back to the World Voices festival this year, and you can read more about him here.

1 comment:

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