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Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 12, 2008

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.)
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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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1 edition (February 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307267563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307267566
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,278,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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: Paperback
As I sat down to write this review, I thought, "How do I give my honest opinion about a Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer?" The idea was a little intimidating, until I remembered that most literary prizes (and most awards, in general) are bunk. That said, I do think Steven Millhauser is a fine, fine writer. His collection of four novellas, THE KING IN THE TREE, is one of my favorite books. I love his inventiveness, his lack of pretension. I also like the way he re-imagines histories and plays with mythologies. His descriptions are superlative, and and on every page of every book you'll find sentences that stop you cold. There's a story in DANGEROUS LAUGHTER titled "The Wizard of West Orange"; Millhauser might be honestly be called "The Wizard of Skidmore."

BUT: As a collection, DANGEROUS LAUGHTER just doesn't work. I think this points out the dangers in assembling short stories into book form. Many of the stories here would have been moderately interesting as individual pieces - the type of story that would have made you think for a moment and then move on. But as a whole they're pretty experimental, and reading one after another is a slog, mostly because the majority of them lack the two things that most readers expect to see in a piece of fiction: characters and plot.

The book starts off promisingly with "Cat 'n, Mouse," a brilliant piece of work in which Millhauser makes a short story out of a Tom & Jerry (or Itchy & Scratchy) cartoon. The writing here is a marvel, and the hijinks are intercut with anthropomorphic character analyses of the cat and the mouse. Fun, clever stuff.
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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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