From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author hailed by The New Yorker as "a virtuoso of waking dreams" comes a dazzling new collection of darkly comic stories united by their obsession with obsession. In Dangerous Laughter, Steven Millhauser transports us to unknown universes that uncannily resemble our own.
The collection is divided into three parts that fit seamlessly together as a whole. It opens with a bang, as "Cat 'n' Mouse" reimagines the deadly ritual between cartoon rivals in a comedy of dynamite and anvils--a masterly prologue that sets the stage for the alluring, very grown-up twists that follow.
Part one, "Vanishing Acts," features stories of risk and escape: a lonely woman disappears without a trace; a high school boy becomes entangled with his best friend's troubled sister; and a group of teenagers play a treacherous game that pushes them deep into "the kingdom of forbidden things."
Excess reigns in the vivid, haunting places of Part two's "Impossible Architectures," where domes enclose whole cities, and a king's master miniaturist creates objects so tiny that soon his entire world is invisible.
Finally, "Heretical Histories" presents startling alternatives to the remembered past. "A Precursor of the Cinema" proposes a new, enigmatic form of illusion. And in the astonishing "The Wizard of West Orange" a famous inventor sets out to simulate the sense of touch--but success brings disturbing consequences.
Sensual, mysterious, Dangerous Laughter is a mesmerizing journey through brilliantly realized labyrinths of mortal pleasures that stretch the boundaries of the ordinary world to their limits--and occasionally beyond.
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 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 11, 2008
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