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

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Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories (Vintage Contemporaries) + We Others: New & Selected Stories (Vintage Contemporaries) + The Knife Thrower: and Other Stories (Vintage Contemporaries)
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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: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #782,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

One star, however, for a couple good ideas, although poorly executed.
t.g. randini
Another story of a town with an exact replica is obviously a statement of something but I was never able to grasp it.
Stacy Helton
They compel the reader to consider the the relationship between absurdity and reality.
Mark Trial

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Joan B. Hillo on April 27, 2008
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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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By K. L. Cotugno VINE VOICE on March 28, 2008
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Peter Baklava on September 12, 2013
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lori Parker on July 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Steven millhouser uses short, plain, unemotional sentences to make the reality of his characters more immediate to the reader in "Dangerous Laughter". Most of the thirteen brief works of fiction included in this volume are similar to stumbling upon faked magazine articles or portions of a diary. This literary style somehow conveys more by saying less. The adage "Don't tell, but show" apparently does not apply to every writer in equal measure.

The collection of short stories is prefaced by a cartoon reminiscent of "Tom and Jerry", and the rest are divided into three sections.

"Vanishing Acts"

These four stories have in common a melancholy/reflective youngish male narrator, complemented by an irredeemable/untouchable female. The tales wind down varying paths, but all lead to the disappearance of the females. This is the section most like what I remember from my literature book in school, but I am glad that I did not stop at this grouping. If I rated on these four alone, he'd flunk, because the monotony became exhausting.

"Impossible Architectures"

Ranging in setting from the past, through the future, and including a fantastic never-when, this set of four are close to textbook accounts of the author's imagination's landscape. I could certainly see the dome-style home coverings and extended attending consequences. The Tower of Babel remake brought to the fore certain ideas worth pondering.

"Heretical Histories"

Moving still closer towards a journalistic bent, these four tales are incredibly realistic. The Historical Society venture is very dry humor, but it holds much hidden truth. The end of the brief biography of the castle's miniaturist is not altogether unlike a morality play.
Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By laurenpie on November 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly loved Millhauser's 1990 short story, "The Barnum Museum", full of understated sparkle and wonder. Therefore I really hate to say it... but for me, this particular collection fell far short.

Though the ideas were creative, I found their execution repetitive and monotonous to the point of being tiring. There were few likable narrators. I do often enjoy long or slow-moving stories (e.g., I loved "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" and much of Charles Dickens, whilst many others complain about their slow pace), but these thirteen Millhauser stories didn't entrance me enough to care. Yes, I plodded through, but only to reap ultimate disappointment.

My favorite of the bunch was "The Wizard of West Orange", though even there I was sorely tempted to skip ahead.
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