Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories ハードカバー – ラフカット, 2008/2/12
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From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author hailed by The New Yorker as “a virtuoso of waking dreams” comes a dazzling new collection of darkly comic stories united by their obsession with obsession. In Dangerous Laughter, Steven Millhauser transports us to unknown universes that uncannily resemble our own.
The collection is divided into three parts that fit seamlessly together as a whole. It opens with a bang, as “Cat ’n’ Mouse” reimagines the deadly ritual between cartoon rivals in a comedy of dynamite and anvils—a masterly prologue that sets the stage for the alluring, very grown-up twists that follow.
Part one, “Vanishing Acts,” features stories of risk and escape: a lonely woman disappears without a trace; a high school boy becomes entangled with his best friend’s troubled sister; and a group of teenagers play a treacherous game that pushes them deep into “the kingdom of forbidden things.”
Excess reigns in the vivid, haunting places of Part two’s “Impossible Architectures,” where domes enclose whole cities, and a king’s master miniaturist creates objects so tiny that soon his entire world is invisible.
Finally, “Heretical Histories” presents startling alternatives to the remembered past. “A Precursor of the Cinema” proposes a new, enigmatic form of illusion. And in the astonishing “The Wizard of West Orange” a famous inventor sets out to simulate the sense of touch—but success brings disturbing consequences.
Sensual, mysterious, Dangerous Laughter is a mesmerizing journey through brilliantly realized labyrinths of mortal pleasures that stretch the boundaries of the ordinary world to their limits—and occasionally beyond.
Dangerous Laughter / Steven Millhauser
We have received the following praise for the above:
“Dangerous Laughter groups three sets of smart, darkly obsessive stories around the themes of risk-taking, imaginary places, and ersatz biographies, all led off by a crazy cartoon cat-and-mouse slapstick drama rendered with pure cloak-and-dagger delight.”
–Lisa Shea, Elle
“Tales fueled by curiosity and wonder, from a master . . . [who] is consistently so much fun to read . . . Everything one has come to want and expect in Millhauser’s fiction is here–spooky attics, fantastic inventions, artists driven mad, and ambitious enterprises that become overattenuated and impossible to sustain. The result is almost a Steven Millhauser primer, a much needed fix for fans . . . and a perfect introduction for those unacquainted with his writing. . . . [‘A Precursor to the Cinema’ and ‘The Wizard of West Orange’ are] marvelous stories that make the suspension of disbelief feel like no work whatsoever . . . Millhauser has done nothing here to diminish his reputation as one of our most dazzling storytellers. ‘It was said that no matter how closely you examined one of the Master’s little pieces, you always discovered some further wonder,’ he writes of his obsessive court miniaturist [in ‘In the Reign of Harad IV’]. The same could be said of Steven Millhauser.”
–Jeff Turrentine, The Washington Post Book World
“Steven Millhauser’s best story collection. [Dangerous Laughter] sums up everything he has been driving at since the beginning of his writing career. Adolescents sulk, break down, and die. Other characters–artists and ordinary people alike–disappear except for the barest trace, or create works of art impossibly small (really invisible) or structures impossibly large (encompassing the world). . . . [‘The Room in the Attic’] is the most powerful evocation of adolescence that Millhauser has ever given us. . . . It is as if Millhauser imagined his stories so meticulously that he brought their contents into being . . . Every reader knows of writers who are like secrets one wants to keep yet whose books one wants to tell the world about. Steven Millhauser is mine. Of course, having won the Pulitzer Prize, he is no one’s secret, but he is the writer I tell people about, confident they will be enthralled.”
–David Rollow, Boston Sunday Globe
“Prose wizardry . . . infused with magic: readers seeking the perfect introduction to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Millhauser need look no further. His latest book, Dangerous Laughter, draws on every facet of his imagination, using bright, homespun Americana as a springboard into the cosmic and surreal. It lifts pop-culture artifacts and fairy-tale motifs into rich cerebral spheres. It delights in the paradoxical, the outlandish and the out-of-this-world. And it delivers its treats in a prose of such melodic wit and finesse that it’s more akin to musicmaking than storytelling. Dangerous Laughter reminds us once again how lucky we are to be privy to Millhauser’s shadowy, funhouse visions.”
–Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times
“Reviewers use words like enchantment recklessly, as though it happens to us all the time. Book reviewers are especially prone to describing books as ‘enchanting,’ pretending that a spell has actually been cast over us.
If only it were so. As often as not, it is a spell of boredom. Steven Millhauser’s books are the exception. . . .
[‘Cat ‘n’ Mouse’] sounds like a ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon as written by Franz Kafka. Or Sigmund Freud. . . .[It is] indelibly vivid . . . hard-edged and bright as a plasma screen . . .
In ‘The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman,’ a young woman disappears from inside her apartment without a trace. . . . Millhauser turns an ordinary whodunit into a tale of obscure people who slowly disappear out of apparent volition. . . . There is no more poignant note in Millhauser than this: the sense of life that has come to nothing, as we understand that Elaine Coleman has committed a metaphysical form of suicide: willing herself out of existence because in the eyes of others she has already been erased.
In the most haunted story of them all, ‘The Room in the Attic,’ Millhauser introduces us to a high school boy whose friend’s sister, Isabel, lives in an attic shut off completely from light. . . .
There are few writers in America better at striking the note of longing, of missed opportunity, of life taking uncanny and unfathomable turns. The utter weirdness of the young man in a pitch black room, held rapt and immobile by the lure of an unseen and teasing young woman is the very essence of estrangement itself.
Millhauser is the maestro of the creepy. In reading [Dangerous Laughter] the reader experiences what Millhauser himself must feel as he writes these Kafkaesque stories of real mystery in imaginary suburbs.”
–Mark Shechner, The Buffalo News
“A sense of mystery and strangeness pervades these 13 stories . . . Millhauser’s intelligence and originality shine through on every page. Recommended.”
–Lawrence Rungren, Library Journal
“Steven Millhauser doesn’t traffic in emotional upheaval or interpersonal conflict. Most fiction writers try to make characters seem like real people, but Millhauser flattens them, giving his books the paradoxical effect of seeming realer than reality. For him, meticulous observation does the work of psychology. Millhauser is also our foremost animist . . . His vehicles for these effects are the parable and the confession. There is a disquieting quiet to every Millhauser sentence that makes it immediately recognizable, a feeling that each was recorded for posterity by the last man living.
The 13 terrific stories in Dangerous Laughter reintroduce us to this strange realm. . . . Together, they present the typical Millhauser gallery of obsessed miniaturists, bookish adolescent boys in thrall to mysterious evanescent girls and reports from a dystopian near-future told with ill-considered confidence by town leaders. But over the years Millhauser’s elegant midcentury prose has only gotten stronger, and here he moves his chosen themes forward with additional confidence and power.
In the remarkable ‘Here at the Historical Society,’ an unnamed narrator defends his small-town society’s decision to supplement its exhibits with ephemera of what he calls the ‘New Past’ . . and concludes that the present–here he offers the passkey to Millhauser’s fictional universe–is ‘the only past we’ll ever know.’ . . . One suspect[s] that Millhauser’s real subject is contemporary America. But in his postmodern world, meanings are never unpacked. These are fables, not allegories, and their hermetic quality discourages us from wandering outside the text. . . . Since [his debut work of fiction], although the heightened visual awareness that has always been Millhauser’s trademark has grown even more extraordinary, and its possessor has achieved some fame, little has changed for Millhauser. Not so for us: more than 30 years later, with lived life everywhere giving way to the Internet and ‘reality’ TV, Millhauser’s chronicles of our semi-inhabited landscape seem not just brilliant but prescient.”
–D.T. Max, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)
“Millhauser has stayed true to the fantastic tradition that extends from Scheherazade to Poe, to Kafka and Barth. He rejects the ordinary world of the merely real, and playfully and powerfully explores the incredible world of purely aesthetic creation. . . . The 13 stories [in Dangerous Laughter] are united by the quest for transcendence. Even the first story, which uses fast-paced present tense to create the illusion that you are watching a ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon, concludes with erasure of the physical, and the reinstatement of illusion. . . Millhauser takes an ordinary truth and pushes it to extremes both amusing and pathetic. . . [to] intriguing transformation[s] of the mundane into the miraculous. [But] Millhauser’s stories are not mere ingenuity, although they are devilishly clever. He is motivated by the desire to see a world in a grain of sand, to affirm that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. Millhauser is our most brilliant practicing romantic, for whom surface reality is merely an uninteresting illusion.”
–Charles May, San Francisco Chronicle
“Exhilarating . . . [Millhauser] has taken strange, magical ideas and crystallized stories around them. . . . He takes abstractions and fleshes them out, without ever losing sight of their wonder, or of the inherent humor of human desire. He’s like Borges, but funny. And while there aren’t really characters, in the sense of people with feeling and motives (other than obsession), you come to know these outlandish ideas like old friends. Millhauser explores every nook and cranny of the strange, and shows us what it might be like to live in a world where we pushed just a little further–or rather, much, much further–into the realm of the mysterious and unknown. . . . Dangerously good.”
–Cris Rodriguez, BostonNow.com
“Enchanting . . . Steven Millhauser is a marvel. . . . Dangerous Laughter shimmers with eccentric research, sinuous explorations of the mysteries of artistic creation and his preternatu...
In my opinion, "Dangerous Laughter" contains a number of excellent stories that can support repeated readings. "Cat 'N Mouse," which stands quite apart from the rest of the stories--except in that it recounts the history of a consuming rivalry--is very amusing and fun. I loved it too when the narrator goes into each animal's psychological state. To me, the other best stories are "The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman," "History of a Disturbance," "The Other Town," "A Precursor of the Cinema," and "The Wizard of West Orange." Another reviewer said "The Other Town" didn't quite cut it; however, it is a fabulous allegory for representation and art. (Some may dismiss it as too ready made for a graduate seminar in post-structuralism where simulacra rolls too easily off of everyone's Baudrillard-loving tongue.)
The weakest stories, I think, are "The Room in the Attic," which just asks for too much suspension of disbelief, and "Dangerous Laughter." Both stories attempt to foreground character more but come off as too artificial--an amusing outcome for a book with so many fantastical conceits.
For readers who like the historical approach, see Jim Shephard's "Like You'd Understand Anyway." His stories are based on real history, however, and Shephard is very comfortable navigating character motivations.