Master of Delay

In her debut book of stories, Anat Einhar displays a superb skill for narrative talent and a flawless sense of timing.

One cannot read "Summer Predators," Anat Einhar's debut book of short stories, in one sitting. One cannot take in all her lovely imagery at once. One cannot deny her clear, radiant talent. One cannot allow one?s heart to absorb so many emotions. One cannot say "chance" or "beginner?s luck," and simply shrug one's shoulders. One cannot stop admiring the complexity of the situations she describes.

That's how good the book is. Will the fact that Anat Einhar writes so well make her book a popular one? We can assume that it won't. This is writing from the school of Yehoshua Kenaz, in which the mastery of Hebrew and the art of the short story continually hold back a dramatic plot that is only slowly revealed to readers; were it not exposed in that way, quietly and with total precision, it would be unbearable. This is outstanding, patient writing that on the one hand pierces Israeli life like a spear, and on the other maintains a very high level of precision, while both keeping at bay the sentimental tricks that might make readers' lives easier and remaining consistently cautious about providing immediate satisfaction.

For example, the third of the collection's four stories, which offers a seemingly straightforward description of a 15-year-old girl conducting a dialogue with the alcoholic old man in the apartment next door while she is imprisoned inside a plastic device intended to straighten out her scoliosis, actually conceals another story, as if it were a Russian nesting doll.

"And how misleading was this symmetry," writes Einhar about the flat architecture of the homes of both the girl's family and the alcoholic neighbor, "as though the apartments were planned according to the outline of the spread wings of a butterfly trapped beneath the ceiling of the building, a huge and distorted butterfly with one faded wing."

Within this story, which is told in the most restrained and credible manner possible - both despite and because of the dark material it contains - there is a tale of another girl, a very young Greek girl, who met the same neighbor at a bar in Athens during World War II, when the Greeks repulsed the Italian invasion. While the reader's heart fills with terror, and with the fear of everything that could happen to a lonely teenage girl seeking solace with an older neighbor, it turns out that the severe violence is to be found only in the neighbor's memories and on his tattooed back (as well as on the tattooed forehead of the Greek girl, whom he will remember forever). And so it turns out that the one who refrains from causing damage is in fact the guilt-ridden neighbor, whereas the one seeking to be damaged is actually the girl next door.

In the title story, the collection's best, Einhar brings the reader to a point of genuine heartbreak as she patiently describes the life of the teacher Zvi Hendler, whose dog Guli has been killed in a terror attack. Wisely, the author allows the dog's death to serve as the beginning of the story rather than its end or its climax, and one can almost hear the deep, quick breaths of Zvi as he vacillates between accepting and being frustrated by the refusal of those close to him - the woman he lives with, the vulgar Iris; her alienated adolescent son; a female student who ultimately betrays him - to share his grief over the loss of his dog.

In this story, as in the entire collection - including the somewhat strange tale of a relationship between a lost young Russian boy and a poet who is very reminiscent of the late, real-life Israeli poet Dahlia Rabikovitch - Einhar reveals that she is a master of delay. She allows the story's psychological climaxes to be poured like a spot of color into the flow of life itself, to muddy it but not to lead to its cessation. She refrains from dramatic declarations - on the part of either the narrator or that of the characters, whose awareness she invades with unparalleled delicacy - but does not refrain from writing about the dark places these characters reach, both emotionally and physically. Einhar does an exceptional job of creating a sense of reality, especially when she describes the way in which people seek solace in sexual relations, conversation, memories, drink, or by ignoring their pain.

The book contains an unusually large representation of Russian-speaking Israelis, considering that it does not deal explicitly with immigration. The Israeliness of the collection arises from the combination of the many characters who are immigrant-exiles (many of whom are described as attractive, and here perhaps Einhar stumbles momentarily) and the public events shared by everyone. Sometimes those events are at the forefront, as in the attack during which the teacher?s dog dies, or a military operation in Jenin that is mentioned in the fourth story. And sometimes the events are in the background, as when the family of the girl with scoliosis watches the televised trial of John Demjanjuk, who was accused of operating the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp during World War II.

In every case, the reaction of the characters to the violence and difficulty of Israeli life is a kind of delayed reaction. It is the reaction of those who have recently arrived and are still not totally involved in what is happening, those who maintain an ironic distance from the situation, concentrating instead on survival. On the other hand, some of them, like the Russian boy who works in the poet?s home and finds her lying on the floor, permit themselves to engage in one momentary, impulsive act of rebellion − an act that holds redemption within it.

Together with the publication of Kenaz's last story collection, "Apartment With Garden Entrance & Other Stories," the publisher Am Oved is offering readers a serious artistic alternative - one that pulls the Israeli story out of the absurd, out of kitsch, out of post-modern intellectualism, and toward a smart and direct realism, one that is effective in a simple way, not a superficial one.

Tal Niv edits Haaretz Magazine for the English edition.