Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Amos Oz is an another of those eminent living writers whose work I have only just sampled for the first time.

'Waiting', in this week's New Yorker, is a profound and powerfully atmospheric tale. Set in an almost deserted Israeli village on a sleepy Friday afternoon, it reads like an existential ghost story. The ghost in question is Benny's Avni's wife Nava, who has disappeared leaving only a note that says, 'Don't worry about me.' (That's a hell of a note to leave. If Raymond Carver had written the story, that's probably what it would have been called.)

Benny, head of the District Council and pillar of the community, doesn't so much wait for Nava as embark on a journey in search of a woman he has never really known. All the while he is shadowed by a stray dog, which appears to be showing him the way:

'He asked himself, Would it not be better to go straight home? After all, she might have returned and was perhaps resting, puzzled by his absence, maybe even worried about him. But the thought of the empty house terrified him, and he went on, limping, following the dog, who never looked back, his muzzle lowered as if sniffing the way.'

I was reminded of the mundane, yet menacing terrain of John Cheever's 'The Swimmer'. In Oz's story, Benny's wanderings take him to a bomb shelter and the school where his wife teaches: 'The school’s metal gates were already locked for the Sabbath. Both the building and the playground were surrounded by an iron fence topped with barbed wire.'

I don't know if 'Waiting' is from a forthcoming collection, but there is at least one volume of Amos Oz's stories in print, which I look forward to investigating further.

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