Etgar Keret's The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories stings and thrills with fierce fables of modern life. Set in landscapes ranging from "this armpit town outside Austin, Texas" to "this village in Uzbekistan that was built right smack at the mouth of Hell," these stories lay their plots' central tensions out plainly: "Dad wouldn't buy me a Bart Simpson doll," one begins. Then they take off like little roller coasters, careening through the pathos of Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, the clowning of David Sedaris's Barrel Fever, the in-your-face violence of Quentin Tarantino, and the bewildered alienation of Franz Kafka. But readers need not know any of Keret's sources to enjoy his stories fully. The Israeli writer's aphorisms leap off the page and lodge themselves in the mind: "There are two kinds of people, those who like to sleep next to the wall, and those who like to sleep next to the people who push them off the bed." Keret's vernacular prose is fun to read, and his vision of the world is weirdly comforting. Happiness never really flourishes, but small hopes and graces abound.
I first heard about Bus Driver and, more importantly, the story "Kneller's Happy Campers" after viewing the delightfully morbid romance, Wristcutters: a Love Story. The child raved about both the film, and the collection of stories it was based off of (which she hadn't read, but still insisted it was incredible). Several weeks later, she had a physical copy in her paws and proceded to wave it about like Moses did with the Ten Commandments. She insists I read it. So, I do.
This is one of those types of things where its easy to say its so good, because everyone else says its so good. With stories more like brief glimpses into the life of unfortunate people, it often felt as though things were lost in its Israeli-to-English translation. Not that they were bad, per say, but many of the tidbits came off pointless and random.
On a more positive note, I can see where all the praise is coming from--Keret has a habit of taking one of his tales one way, then spinning it on its head in a way nobody seems to understand but goes along with anyway. One in particular, "Plague of the Firstborn" comes to mind, taking the aforementioned Ten Commandments story in the point of view of some Egyptians.
Overall, a dark and surreal collection of snapshots that, while definetly not aiming for literary greatness, nontheless entertains and stupifies the mind.
Rating: 7 out fo 10
Also: check out the film based off "Knellers Happy Campers", Wristcutters: a Love Story.