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Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – February 10, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Phenomenal clarity and rapacious movement are only two of the virtues of Millhauser's new collection, which focuses on the misery wrought by misdirected human desire and ambition. The citizens who build insulated domes over their houses in The Dome escalate their ambitions to great literal and figurative heights, but the accomplishment becomes bittersweet. The uncontrollably amused adolescents in the book's title story, who gather together for laughing sessions, find something ultimately joyless in their mirth. As in earlier works like The Barnum Museum, Millhauser's tales evolve more like lyrical essays than like stories; the most breathlessly paced sound the most like essays. The painter at the center of A Precursor of the Cinema develops from entirely conventional works to paintings that blend photographic realism with inexplicable movement, to—something entirely new. Similarly, haute couture dresses grow in A Change in Fashion until the people beneath them disappear, and the socioeconomic tension Millhauser induces is as tight as a corset. Though his exaggerated outlook on contemporary life might seem to be at once uncomfortably clinical and fantastical, Millhauser's stories draw us in all the more powerfully, extending his peculiar domain further than ever. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Pulitzer Prizeâ€"winner Steven Millhauser (Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer) has focused his attention in recent years on the novella and short fiction. The author culls his latest collection from stories published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and other venues over the last decade. Any collection drawn from such diverse sources and compiled over a period of time will strike some readers as disconnected. All critics welcome Millhauser’s return and compare the best of these stories (“Here at the Historical Society,” for example) to the work of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges. Less popular are “The Tower,” about a literal Tower of Babel that struggles to rise, and other stories that embrace Big Ideas. Overall, Dangerous Laughter is a strong effortâ€"“not just brilliant but prescient” (New York Times Book Review)â€"and reading these stories is like picking up the “best of” collection of your favorite band: good memories, catchy hooks, and always something new in the familiar.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030738747X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307387479
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #379,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm not going to synopsize the stories since that has been well done by the other reviews. This book has actually been a thrill for me, someone who is not a fan of short stories, because I have never been exposed to so many great stories with this particular slant. One story that really drew me to it was the man who stopped speaking; I don't know why, but I must have read that 8 times while reading the entire book. One reviewer said that s/he had to read all the stories at one sitting, but I was just the reverse. I loved these so much that I only allowed myself 3 stories and a re-read of the man who stopped talking at each sitting.

After reading the first 2 stories I logged onto Amazon and ordered everything by this author.

I suggest you buy this book. I feel certain that you won't be bored.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As in all of his work, Steven Millhauser creates worlds that are just to the left of the center of reality. Each story has a haunting quality that is impossible to quantify, and each keeps you wanting to know more about the inhabitants of his world. Some are thinly veiled allegories, some not so obtuse metaphors, but every one of these 13 stories makes the reader think more about his own world and his perception of it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very strong collection that some less than flattering reviewers have correctly described as repetitive and lacking characters. Were one to read a single story from this collection, it would have a very different effect than a person going through the whole book. This might sound obvious; however, readers who need more character-driven stories are going to be repelled by the collection, whereas they might be able to grant a writer this approach for a single story. The stories are more like imaginative histories either without characters or with characters that are not really the main point. Each story tends to be built around a single fanciful obsession. There are aspects of Poe, Shirley Jackson, Borges, and Hawthorne's short stories in these. The stories begin with disembodied narrators, such as, "After the Age of Revelation came the Age of Concealment," "We here at the Historical Society are tireless in pursuit of the past," or "During the course of the many generations the Tower grew higher and higher until one day it pierced the floor of heaven." After reading a number of such stories, a story such as "The Tower," which comes in the second half of the book, feels already played out before it begins--though it proves, after one gives it a chance, to have a pretty interesting premise. Readers will have a higher opinion of the collection if they cherry-pick stories; however, based on reading other reviews I can tell there's little consensus on which stories to pick!

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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you got this far, you should get the book. I don't think there is anything quite like Millhauser except, of course, for strange machines where you can put a quarter in and find yourself shrunk ala Tom Hanks.

This is a most enjoyable read even when you get weary of the current story only to go on to the next, better one.
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Format: Paperback
Like in all short story collections, some are better than the others. Where Millhauser is good, he is very good. The middle part of this work -- on vanishing -- was my favorite. I found "The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman" to be the best story in the whole collection and it is surrounded by two other stories that hit very solid notes.

I didn't care for the rest of the stories in either the opening or the later parts of the book. They all seemed a bit belabored (like the exhausting "A Precursor of the Cinema") and while "Cat 'N Mouse" is executed very well, reading it gives one whiplash. It is not an experience worth repeating. This is definitely a collection worth checking out from a library rather than purchasing.
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Format: Hardcover
Millhauser's short stories transform what start out as thought experiments into dream states where the ordinary world is entirely present and yet utterly destabilized. Everything solid melts into air. You sometimes aren't sure if you're reading or dreaming, but it's all done so skillfully that you never feel as if he's showing off or conjuring for conjuring's sake. Each story reads like a report from branch office, written by Borges. Millhauser is only true peer of Murakami.
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Format: Paperback
Let me start by noting that I've read another of Millhauser's volumes, "The Knife Thrower", and that I was very intrigued by it.

However....with "Dangerous Laughter", it's as if Millhauser's "pen" has run dry of ideas. Most of the thirteen stories in this collection are like houses of cards--dry, clinical exercises. When Millhauser affects what I would call his "Kafkaesque phase", this is the result: overwritten, clinical, and ultimately boring exercises. As examples of this, I would include "The Dome", "The Tower", and "A Change in Fashion", which are painfully obvious ruminations on social obsessions. "In the Reign of Harad IV", "A Precursor of the Cinema", and "The Wizard of West Orange" are rather coy and pointless tales of eccentric geniuses and their productions. "Cat and Mouse" is a precise, blow-by-blow recreation of a 1950's style cartoon... clever, but the real animated deal is still infinitely preferable.

It's only when Millhauser shows his humane, Ray Bradbury-ish side, that any of the stories resonate. "The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman" is a poignant examination of how the absence of any person in a small community is felt deeply. "The Town" is one conceit of Millhauser's that works very well: the idea of a "mirror community" that residents visit at their leisure, as if in their dreams.

That is a natural construct. People often DO dream of extensions and replications of their towns. Likewise, "Room in the Attic", and the title story, are based in the deflected sexual desire of adolescents. They are also based on very common experiences.

Too much of this collection is like wandering through thickets of words, hoping for some resolution or payoff that doesn't come. Millhauser lacks the humor and irony of someone like Donald Barthelme, and he is incredibly verbose when compared to Borges.

I don't think I'll ever be drawn back to this particular volume.
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