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Category Archive for 'Humor, Satire, Absurdity'

On his way to Dorinish, the tiny Irish island which he bought ten years before, John Lennon, now thirty-seven, is in the midst of a personal crisis. It is 1978, and the Beatles have not been together for eight years. Lennon has watched his first marriage crumble and his son Julian disappear from his life. Married in 1969 to Yoko Ono, he separated from her for eighteen months, shortly after their marriage. Later reunited, they had a baby, Sean, with whom he now spends most of his time at home in New York, but he is otherwise at loose ends. He has not written any music since 1975, and he feels as if he has lost his way, both musically and personally. Famous, at this point, for his counterculture points of view, he has actively courted attention to publicize his anti-government agenda, and has become involved with drugs, Marxism, the Black Panthers, and behavior which has put him under the surveillance of the FBI, though he has otherwise tried to avoid publicity in his personal life. He now feels that if he can get away and spend time alone for only three days on Dorinish, that he might come to some new conclusions about his life and how to live it.

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With an opening story which feels like some bizarre, twisted, and darkly humorous version of Deliverance, O. Henry Award-winner Arthur Bradford turns not just this plot on its head but every other plot in every other story in this collection. These interconnected stories feature a young, naïve speaker, usually identified as “Georgie,” who seems born without a sense of caution, someone who appears to have no ability to predict disasters as he enthusiastically follows his imagination or heart without a glance backward – or forward. Few readers will be able to resist this character, whose heart is in the right place though he lives on a completely different plane from the rest of the world. Even those few main characters who are not specifically identified as “Georgie” might just as well be Georgie in terms of their personality and behavior, acting the way many of us dreamed of behaving in an earlier, simpler world, long before we grew up and learned to “pay attention,” “think of the future,” and “be careful.” It is the tension between our empathy for Georgie and our frustration with him for his gullibility that keeps the reader entertained and involved, though Georgie is guaranteed to make every parent who reads this book cringe.

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One out of Two, an early (1994) novel by award-winning Mexican author Daniel Sada, has just been published in English translation for the first time – a tragicomic classic by an author whom both Roberto Bolano and Carlos Fuentes have highly praised for his “contributions to literature in the Spanish language.” It joins Almost Never (2008) as one of only two books by Sada available in English, to date. Though the book appears, at first, to be a simple morality tale, Sada is an adventurous novelist who endows his main characters with more than the flat, stereotypical behaviors and thoughts which one usually associates with stories written to illustrate a moral lesson. While keeping his style uncomplicated, he shows his characters as they live their ordinary lives and make some remarkable decisions which cause unexpected complications for them. The mood is light and the action often very funny, though equally often, it is ironic or edgy. The cumulative result is farcical rather than pedantic, serious rather than lightweight. The story revolves around a pair of forty-year-old identical twins who are invited to a wedding which only one can attend, and she meets a suitor. What the twins do to meet their joint needs becomes the focus of this farcical but sensitive novella with a surprising ending.

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Set in Russia during the period that begins after the death of Lenin, the earliest stories show the strict Communist Party rule, its control of all aspects of life and thinking, and the country’s economic hardships under Josef Stalin. Later stories make references to Nikita Krushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the fall of Communism in the early 1990s, and the rise of Boris Yeltsin and his successor, Vladimir Putin. Marra is not writing a political history, however. Instead, he concentrates on the ordinary people who live in three different parts of the former Soviet Union during this time period, recreating the atmosphere of everyday life during this period, with all its fears and privations. In the later sections of the book, especially in the story “The Grozny Tourist Bureau, his sense of satire and dark humor rise to the fore, showing the absurdities which the main characters themselves recognize as they are determined to rebrand Chechnya, the most devastated city on earth, as “the Dubai of the Caucasus.” Equally important in this story, however, are the stories of some characters whose future the reader comes to care about. Set in Russia during the period that begins after the death of Lenin, the earliest stories show the strict Communist Party rule, its control of all aspects of life and thinking, and the country’s economic hardships under Josef Stalin. Later stories make references to Nikita Krushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the fall of Communism in the early 1990s, and the rise of Boris Yeltsin and his successor, Vladimir Putin.

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“On a Sunday evening, I went with some colleagues to an auction of contraband memorabilia in a karaoke bar in Little Havana…I had no intention of blowing my check, but, without the least warning, the god of tiny details set paradise before me…Right there, in the depth of the Sunday solitude of a Little Havana auction I found them: my new teeth…the sacred teeth of none other than [Hollywood diva] Marilyn Monroe…slightly yellowed.”—Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez, or “Highway.”

If that quotation does not pique your curiosity with its absurdity, the succeeding images may. As soon as Highway returns from Cuba to Mexico, he contacts the “best cosmetic dental clinic” in Mexico City and has “each of the teeth belonging to the Venus of the big screen transplanted into [his] mouth,” though he does save ten of his old teeth, the best-looking ones, for later, “just in case.” For months afterward, he walks around Mexico City smiling at his appearance in reflections, celebrating his good luck, and believing that “[his] life was a poem.” And this is just the beginning of a serious look at the connections between life, art, and literature.

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