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Review of Sex in the Cemetery in Yediot

September 22, 2000

Like Drugged Mice

Book review by Prof. Yigal Schwartz, Yediot Achronot Literary Supplement,
September 22, 2000.
There are fourteen stories and novella in this book, with young men and women
as protagonists, mostly in their late twenties. Most of them are Israelis, but this
is, probably, a circumstantial fact. Gavron ridicules, through Jason, one of his
non-Israeli characters, people who take pride in their citizenship as if it is their
achievement and not an accident of nature (page 113).
All protagonists are in restless movement, like drugged mice, between different
and strange places on the globe. They travel in planes, in a furniture removal
truck, in a delivery companys scooter and/or by way of the Internet, alcohol,
hashish and cocaine. In these journeys, it should be mentioned immediately, no
one finds himself or reaches a new insight regarding his fellow people. The
almost-automatic affinity, which we are used to make when reading (modern)
literature, between a physical journey and a search for identity (personal,
national), has no relevance in Gavrons stories. It is not even the subject of
parody apart perhaps from the story of Niv and Inbal, the two merging
Buddhists in the novella Sex in the Cemetery, that the writer does not try to
hide the aversion and nausea they arouse in him.
A much more significant affinity exists between the world inhabited by the books
protagonists and the worlds inhabited by the protagonists of some of the
prominent film makers of the last decade, especially Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), the
Coen brothers (Barton Fink) and Ken Loach (Raining Stones). Here and there it
is a world in which people are controlled by the plots. Violent, stirring plots,
which disrupt the world order for a moment, but do not change anything. Here
and there are plots which are a realization of clichs, and no more; a realization
of overused linguistic expressions that represents, but dont really, real human
truths, and actually represent a hollow existence.

This is a phenomenon that characterizes all stories and sometimes is hinted in

their titles for example in the name of the story No-one Dies From Love
Anymore but reaches the pinnacle of its sophistication in the books central
story, Sex in the Cemetery. This novella is based on the realization of the plots
that are folded, like genetic code, in three overused linguistic expressions, and on
the confrontation and shattering of these almost-life-stories. One of the
expressions, There is love inside us and it will prevail, is taken from a famous
song by Arik Einstein. This sentence is printed on the t-shirt of one of the main
protagonists, who falls in love during one evening in Manila, the Philippines, with
a prostitute who leads him to a trap which leads to his death facts that do not,
to say the least, validate the statement on the t-shirt.
The second clich is No white man will come here and do whatever he wants.
This is the motto of the baddies, the two Philippinos, friends of the prostitute,
who kill the Israeli protagonist out of pure criminal reasons, but stick to their
sentence time after time. The duos linguistic behavior, compulsive and scary and
ridiculous all at the same time, fits perfectly their appearance. One of them is
wearing an elegant green suit, and the other pink pajamas with Bugs Bunny
prints (page 155). The third clich, or rather bunch of clichs, is supplied by the
two Buddhists. For example, the eternal rhetorical sentences Inbal is reciting to
Tali: What is the truth? What is the real meaning of life and death? Sit back and
feel the dharma, the rhythm of the cosmos, and this is while Talis boyfriend,
Uri, is about to be murdered in depressing futility.
Besides the clichs, dozens of brands star in the stories, names of mass
industrial products, which also fold within them different plots, which invade the
protagonists lives. This is how, for instance, the protagonist of No-one Dies
From Love Anymore falls in love with a supermodel, who is drawn like him into a
hair-raising horror scene, in which other media stars take part as well. The scene
turns out to be a television joke of a particularly grotesque kind. In light of these
loopy processes the constant movement between reality and scripts of reality,
when you never know what came first there is no wonder that the real
relationships seem to have a similar existential status as internet relationships

And on the same subject, the person who has chosen the photograph for the cover
should be praised: the face of a screaming man, as though from pleasure, holding
in one hand an industrial hamburger sandwich (McDonalds? Burger King?), a
glass of drink in his other hand (presumably Coca Cola), and in front of him a bug
of industrial fries. This screaming man whether indeed from pleasure or, as can
be observed in a second glance, out of mad laughter or laughing madness can
be perceived as an ironic wink, tempting and aloof at the same time, to another
scream, that of Eduard Munch. This is, as is well known, one of the most typical
images of modernism, and Assaf Gavron juggles with it like a child plays with a
dead snake.
Gavron is very attentive of the spirit of the times, his time, to different trends
and to what they represent. Like a sensitive seismograph he responds to every
current cultural shift. But sensitivity (psychological, social etc.) on its own does
not guarantee quality literature. And Gavron, it is time to say, writes literature of
the highest quality. This quality is the result of the combination of many factors,
among them his ability to tell a story and his tone.
I find it hard to remember young post-modernist writers who are read
breathlessly. Something in the post literature inherently refuses to be translated
to an aesthetic system based on curiosity and suspension. The same goes for
stories which are based deliberately on crime stories (like some of the stories,
excellent in their own right, of Leah Ayalon). But most of Gavrons stories are
read breathlessly. They are full of sexual and social tensions waiting to explode,
riddles demanding deciphering, and compressed truths waiting to wane. Gavron
manages to dismantle this explosive charge, slowly, with the skill of a sapper. At
the same time, he continues to play courting games with the postmodern literary
norms, the anti-plots, and the fragmented world-view they reflect.
Regarding the tone, Gavron has a clear, full, masculine voice, scathing and rough,
that fits perfectly to his jazzy rap ballads. He is hardly ever off-key, not even when
he describes violence or wild sex scenes, not even when he allows himself, rarely,
to become poetic. This book, his second (after Ice), is not as solid as it could be,
there are some stories that are not up to level with others and could have been
left outside (Nick Kershaw, Four packs a day, The Passive and the Hysterical,

Thirsty), but this is a minor mishap. Whats important is that finally we can
enjoy inventive Hebrew fiction.

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