It's easy to make people cry. Bald chemo kid in a hospital bed, mangy dog in the pound, soldier on the tarmac home from war greeting his family — who doesn't get teary-eyed? I routinely cry at phone commercials in which people call their mothers.
But it's much more difficult to make people laugh, which is precisely why I so admire comedy.
By comedy I don't mean the broadest slapstick, slips on banana peels and goofy hats. I mean comedy that is challenging, potentially even offensive.
We're more used to that kind of humor in TV and movies. People revel in political incorrectness from Larry David and Sacha Baron Cohen. Quentin Tarantino has made a career out of chuckling at death, the more grotesque the better. But literary fiction with comic overtones has a harder time finding its audience. Serious fiction still tends to be mostly... serious.
My favorite works of fiction are dark (as opposed to lite?) comedies that tiptoe a tonal tightrope. Vladimir Nabokov yucked it up about the grooming habits of sexual predators in Lolita. Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary is a laugh riot about, among ...