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Category Archive for 'Humor, Satire, Absurdity'

Young main character Willis Wu spends the most important parts of his life at the Golden Palace, a Chinese restaurant/film studio in an unnamed time period in an unnamed English-speaking city. As Willis, whose parents were immigrants, lives his life there and in the broader enclave of Chinatown, his creator, author Charles Yu, explores Willis’s reality, quickly constructing level upon level of different “realities” and creating an experimental novel, often satiric, which includes the reader from the opening pages. Willis, an actor in a film being made in off-hours at the Golden Palace, is realistic in evaluating his chances at improving his role from that of Background Oriental Male to his ideal role, that of Kung Fu Guy, the hero. As Willis plays his part, hoping to make “progress,” the role of US immigration policy on his life and the lives of his family and friends becomes clearer. A unique novel dealing with the subject of immigration with irony, humor, and a sense of understanding for the victims and the lives they sometimes choose to live.

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With two main characters who have little to suggest that their stories will become the charming, funny, insightful, and un-put-down-able chronicles that eventually evolve, Irish author Rónán Hession demonstrates his own creativity and his own ideas regarding communication and its importance or lack of it in our lives. He ignores the generations-old traditions of boisterous Irish writing and non-stop action in favor of a quiet, kindly, and highly original analysis of his characters and their unpretentious and self-contained lives. Leonard and Hungry Paul, both in their early thirties, are serious introverts with few friends, but events occur which inspire each of them to become just a bit more social. For Leonard, it is a young woman; for Hungry Paul, it is the realization that a new job comes with the possibility that he may have his own apartment, not live at home. I cannot remember when I have read a book which so thoroughly and honestly touched my heart. The writing is intelligent, memorable, real, and very funny, and I am already impatient for Rónán Hession’s next novel.

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Author Irmgard Keun firmly established her reputation in Germany in 1932, with the publication of the hugely popular pre-Nazi era novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, a celebration of youth and the fast life lived to its fullest. Almost a generation and a world war later, Keun published Ferdinand, The Man with the Kind Heart depicting the aftermath of the war and the separation of Germany into two nations, East and West. “Ordinary” citizens of this time and place do not know what to expect in the future, what goals make sense in this destroyed society, and how to live a real life. These are some of the very real goals of main character Ferdinand Timpe. A former POW and fiancé of a girl who is almost a stranger to him, Ferdinand himself is not intrinsically very interesting, but author Irmgard Keun is such a high-powered, energetic writer, so wild in creating scenarios filled with irony, humor, and constant surprises, that once a reader starts exploring her novel, it becomes all-encompassing. Her tornado of images and actions never lets up, bringing even Ferdinand to reluctant life.

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Ten pages into this novella, which Muriel Spark claimed was her favorite among all her novels, the fate of main character Lise is not in doubt. Lise will be dead before the book ends. Since the reader will suspect who the murderer is well before the murder happens, the author has always preferred to refer to this book not as a “whodunnit,” but as a “whydunnit,” a term she uses within the book. From the outset the reader observes surreal, alarming, and clinically insane behavior from Lise, the victim. At the same time the person who seems to be her murderer appears to be a just bit wacky. Unexpected ironies throughout turn the novel on its head, creating a mood in which dark humor and bizarre surprises keep a smile on the face of the reader almost all the way through the novel – until the reader discovers the truth, that the person in “the driver’s seat” throughout the novel’s action is actually neither of the two main characters. It is Muriel Spark herself, whose ability to play with the reader’s sensibilities, control them, and then reveal the extent to which they have been manipulated turns the “whydunnit” into an unparalleled tour de force.

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Before one reads even the first sentence of THE COCKROACH, author Ian McEwan uses the introductory epigraph to clearly establish the satirical nature of this work. Inspired by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, an existential novel in which the main character, Gregor Samsa, finds himself gradually transformed from a human being into a cockroach, McEwan gives that concept a twist. Here main character Jim Sams has experienced the reverse, starting out as a cockroach and becoming human. This change has come suddenly. After waking up in bed one morning, he sees that he now has fewer legs and, most “revolting,” he now feels a “slab of slippery meat…squat and wet in his mouth…[which] moved of its own accord to explore the vast cavern of his mouth.” His color has changed, as has his vision, and his “vulnerable” flesh now lies outside his skeleton. Just last night this new human had made a difficult trip in his previous body from the Palace of Westminster through the underground garage, the gutters, and across Parliament Square. A political demonstration had been going on, complete with horse guards and police, but somehow he had avoided them, making his way from there to the bedroom of a residence for the rest of the night. Now, however, he remembers he is on an important, solitary mission. When the phone beside the bed rings, he is barely able to move in his new body, and he misses the call, only to be greeted by a young woman at his door who says, “Prime Minister, it’s almost seven thirty.” There is a Cabinet meeting scheduled for nine o’clock.

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