Be My Knife

In Be My Knife, Israeli author David Grossman attempts a new approach to the epistolary novel, a work of fiction in the form of letters. Yair, a married, thirty-three-year-old rare books dealer, sees a woman at a class reunion and he is so taken with her that he writes her a letter suggested that the two of them begin an intimate correspondence. Unexpectedly, she replies. This begins a strange, intense affair in words.

The first two-thirds of the book consist only of Yair’s writings, leaving the reader to guess at the content of the letters from Miriam, the woman. This may not be as much of a problem as one might suspect, because there is very little real dialogue between Yair and Miriam. For the most part, Yair simply writes about himself. The title Be My Knife appears to refer to his wish to use his relationship with the other as an instrument of self- dissection.

Selections from Miriam’s diary make up a second part of the book. Her concerns are more immediate than Yair’s because she has a seriously ill 10-year-old child. A final part of the novel is composed of a collage of thoughts or writings of both Yair and Miriam. It is unclear whether the two ever meet.

This novel is clearly not for everyone. Yair’s pursuit of the truth about himself might lead some cynics to suggest that neither he nor the truth are very interesting. Readers looking for such traditional novelistic pleasures as plot, engaging narrative, description of setting, and character development are likely to be disappointed. However, those who take an interest in the meditations of Grossman’s self-absorbed letter writer may enjoy the novel as an exploration of the nature of intimacy.