David Grossman, To the End of the Land
He’s very talented. But why so frustrating? After reading See Under: Love I thought the problem was a lack of discipline, an unwillingness to bend his flights of fancy toward a single direction; but this book, much more conventional in form, turns out to frustrate in much the same way. So it’s something else.
It might be that storytelling is made a theme too overtly, or in the wrong way. Grossman’s stories are told by precocious children or by adults made to act like precocious children, until they run smack into History, at which point the storytelling impulse gets displaced into something else, a dodge or salve. What grates is that it’s treated as salvation. It may be that there’s nothing else to do against the Holocaust or Israel’s lose-lose politics, but the narrative utopia floats above the surface of the world in the same displeasing way as Salman Rushdie’s magic tricks. The story wants to carry an active force and it can’t. No king nowadays has the patience for Scheherazade; kicked out of the castle, all she can do is keep talking to herself, because that’s all she was made for.
On the other hand, a very good book by Grossman is The Yellow Wind, and curiously, this isn’t the common case of a gifted nonfiction writer being frustrated by fiction. Amid interviews and reportage, the best chapter is a short fiction about an Israeli agent in the occupied territories who can’t share with anyone the new joy in his lifethe birth of his sonbecause it would contradict the lies he’s already told about himself. That seems right about storytelling. It’s like history or the weather; it happens to us more than we to it.