Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Our world, made unreal, and then real again

I just finished reading Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser, and I must say I'm impressed. Millhauser received the Pulitzer for Martin Dressler but I hadn't heard much else about him. When I ran into this collection of short stories joined by a common theme of obsession, I'd figure I'd give it a shot. Millhauser opens with a cartoon of a cat and mouse chase, a story we are all familiar with. He is able, however, to take the familiar and turn it on his head, using something we know to illuminate something we hadn't thought of before. The book is divided into three parts: Vanishing Acts (tales of our obsession with lost things and people), Impossible Architectures (which is about our obsession with the fantastic and unreachable), and Heretical histories (which presents our obsession with forms of the past). His stories seamlessly weave together elements of magical realism, in which worlds can exist where people literally die from laughter and build towers to heaven, with the truth that lies in our world, which can only be presented through the use of impossible images. While Millhauser sometimes suffers from telling too much and not showing enough, he makes up for it through his control of language, in which he is able to pull us back and drive us in again. In the end I was left wondering which world was more true, the one Millhauser created for us, or the one we blindly walk through everyday. It's a great read, and I recommend it.

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