This is the very best of books.
Hilarious. Superbly written. Short.
As I did with Millhauser’s Martin Dressler, I will not needlessly carry on. It is the mark of a poor work that so much need be said about it. I shall not gild the lily.
But Dangerous Laughter is damn fine. Damn fine.
The stories “Cat ‘N’ Mouse” and “Here at the Historical Society” are funnier than anything written by David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Augusten Burroughs, etc, etc, et al.
(I mean, who are the “funny” writers these days? Carl Hiassen? George Saunders? Chuck Klosterman?
Steven Millhauser is not only funnier. He’s better.)
In the titular story, youth engage in secretive drug-esque “laughter parties.” They soon experiment with crying.
In “Here at the Historical Society,” said members defend their recent exhibits detailing the “New Past,” i.e. the minutiae pertaining to the immediate just now.
In “A Change in Fashion,” woman’s fashion is parodied to the point of featuring a 3-story dress.
Are you not entertained?
Steven Millhauser’s appeal lays in his style. His diction is plain and straightforward. He is a master of the subtle. His language is descriptive and “literary” but in a simple manner that hints at humanity’s self-absorption and importance. Everything is relayed in the most thoughtful, perfect manner. Stories retain elements of the surreal and otherworldly, the quirky and impossible even, but the language is straightforward and respectful, never revealing the impossibility and joy of, well, life itself I suppose.
In an era where I feel as if each book I read may be the last printed with ink and bound in glue, Steven Millhauser is refreshing. His prose is classic yet modern. Straightforward and matter of fact. It is confident and severe but playful and entertaining. Millhauser is a reminder that mere words (thoughts) can be quite entertaining and incisive. There are no burdensome devices or unnecessary attention-getters. It is all about the language with Millhauser. Whether he is writing about a cartoon cat and mouse or an ambitious young man, he does so simply and evocatively.