Etgar Keret & George Saunders: Imagine That!
The following talk was adapted from a conversation that took place as part of the 2007 PEN World Voices Festival.
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.
Keret: And the thing he likes about it is that when he does his accounting, and he staples the receipt, it’s a very nostalgic moment. He can think about this affair—and he can do it next to his wife, because he’s doing the accounting. And he can pet the receipt a little bit and then staple it. This was the image that came to mind for this guy in the café. It’s what was hiding behind that sentence. And I thought, “So this is the guy. Now what’s his story?” And the first answer was, “He likes his dog.” Because I felt this loneliness and this threat of sexuality—the idea that you have to fight so people will be convinced that you actually have some phenomenal hard-on.
Read the full interview here