Three guys, a banker, an insurance agent, and a dentist, go to a surprise party…No, it isn’t a joke, it’s the beginning of “Surprise Party.” They never get names; they’re identified by physical characteristics. The bank manager becomes Mustache, the insurance agent, Band-Aid (which brings to mind the Mayhem guy from those car insurance commercials), and Eyebrows is the dentist. They meet each other at the elevator to Avner and Pnina’s penthouse. They’ve been invited to a surprise birthday party for Avner, which is a surprise to them because they never knew they were his friends. Turns out Pnina invited everyone in his BlackBerry, all 300 names, and they are the only three who showed up, which tells you all you need to know about Avner and Pnina, I suppose.
From there, they react differently to the waiting room: Mustache finds Pnina attractive, Band-Aid doesn’t want to go home to his depressed wife and smelly child and is aching for some excitement, and Eyebrows can’t wait to get home. There’s a phone call, a trip to Avner’s office, a rumor about a gun, a swoon, a kiss, a slap, and everyone goes home. That’s about it. We never meet Avner. We never find out what happened to him. We see a little into the three gentlemen’s worlds and a very little bit into Pnina’s.
I kept thinking, maybe this is some kind of heavily symbolic Jewish tale, what with the three guys having different roles and attitudes. Or maybe it’s some kind of heavy-duty literary style that I’m not capable of grasping. But in the interview with Etgar Keret at One Story, I found out that it was conceived as a paean to writer’s block, which, he says, is like waiting for an honored guest to show up: all the energy is there with no place to go. And the shift in POV from the men to Pnina towards the end is the development of the story in lieu of a plot twist. I’m not sure I understand this. In fact, I’m sure I don’t – the POV shifts happen throughout, and I didn’t see the shift to Pnina as different from that of the gentlemen. We still don’t learn much about where Avner is, or why he is out, or why he does not have friends; at first I thought maybe he was dead, but surely between them his banker, insurance agent, and dentist would know that. Is he having an affair? Has he told Pnina he wants a divorce and this party is a last-ditch effort on her part to woo him back? Or is the separateness of their relationship, her loneliness and isolation from her own husband, the point? I’m not sure.
So this went by me. But that’s ok, I’m broadening my horizons. And it was an interesting read, if ultimately a less than satisfying one for me.
This story was translated from the original Hebrew by Sondra Silverston.