Short Story Month, Day 23: Etgar Keret
I first encountered this story one year at AWP when Etgar Keret and George Saunders each read a story aloud to a rapt audience. Saunders read an amusing piece that had been published in The New Yorker, but this one by Keret was the real standout to me. At the time, it was just a funny story about a weird situation between a man and the woman he adores. But whenever I reread it, I'm struck by how much depth and compassion and love are actually in it.
Part of the humor in the piece is that the narrating character is forced into a situation that is incredibly weird and likely something that would send most men running for the hills or, here in America, for their guns. The hairy, crude man the narrator describes sounds kind of gross, and his treatment of women is especially terrible considering what we know about his daylight hours. From an observational point of view, our narrator's bewilderment is amusing and his lack of active revulsion kind of absurd, which lends itself to an awkward humor that is similar to but not quite schaudenfreude.
But thinking about it metaphorically, "Fatso" is a surprisingly positive piece that can be seen as feminist or queer-friendly but, above all, a matter of love and tolerance. We have, after all, a love story that forgoes the mushy stuff and instead focuses on doing right by the person we care about. Our female character is not perfect, and her knowledge of her imperfections leaves her scared of being candid, for fear that she will repulse the man she loves (that Atwood quote about the contrasting fears of men and women comes to mind). But he stays with her regardless of her being, at times, everything he might not otherwise tolerate and finds that the good parts get better and the bad parts are actually not that terrible. It's a great tale that explores what true intimacy actually is, and it's something I think I'm going to have to reread the next time I go through issues of trust with someone.