Three Floors, Three Different Israeli Stories


Nevo breaks this taboo, and when a taboo is broken, guilt awakens. Trying to escape guilt, his characters photoshop the truth. What first seems like an honest confession turns out to be a brilliant act of self-deception. The confessors tell us their secrets, but choose to remain blind to the real secret — not what they did, but why they did it.

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Hani’s attraction to Eviatar, the brother-in-law, can be seen as a betrayal of her husband, but it is also an abandonment of the sacred duty of motherhood. It could be that the father suspecting a sexual assault against his daughter is actually projecting his own hidden violent libido. There’s a political dimension to this psychology: We Israelis often have a “siege mentality” in which we are the victim of evil neighbors, defending ourselves from external threat. The aggressiveness of the in-group is projected onto the outside world, along with all moral responsibility for the conflict. Did Nevo intend his building to be a metaphor? Reading these striking stories, one wonders about the Israelis who lock their doors against external evil, but never stop to question their own morality.

After meeting the id on the first floor, and the ego on the second, we face the superego on the third. A retired judge leaves voice messages on her dead husband’s answering machine, confessing that she has reconnected with their estranged son. While listening to this woman, you start to wonder whether the criminal is indeed the son, who caused a deadly accident, or the mother, who is incapable of loving her child when he fails to live up to her standards.

Though quite radical in his exploration of parenthood, Nevo is rather conservative on the question of which character deserves punishment and which achieves atonement. I somehow wished it were the other way around. And yet, this book and its conflicted apartment dwellers stayed with me long after I finished reading.

“You can never tell what goes on with people behind their reinforced metal doors,” says Arnon, the father on the first floor. Freud argues that you can’t even tell what’s going on behind your own locked door, or inside your own head. Freud’s name is spoken, in a rare explanatory line. But luckily, for the most part, the story speaks for itself. The characters whisper confessions to us; we decide whether to judge or to forgive their sins — which are, of course, variations of our own.

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