Synopses & Reviews
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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Millhauser is one of our most inventive writers....Thirteen stories are gathered here an unlucky number? Certainly not for the reader." Booklist (Starred Review)
"A collection of gossamer yet substantial entertainments from the ineffably graceful stylist well on his way to becoming America's Borges (or, perhaps, Cortazar)....Marvels within marvels, from a writer whose prose possesses the equivalent of what musicians call perfect pitch." Kirkus Reviews
"[Thirteen] terrific stories....Millhauser's chronicles of our semi-inhabited landscape seem not just brilliant but prescient." D. T. Max, The New York Times Book Review
"[A]lmost a Steven Millhauser primer, a much needed fix for fans...and a perfect introduction for those unacquainted with his writing....Millhauser has done nothing here to diminish his reputation as one of our most dazzling storytellers." The Washington Post Book World
"Millhauser's best story collection. This baker's dozen sums up everything he has been driving at since the beginning of his writing career." The Boston Globe
"Only Millhauser could pull off a story modeled after a Tom and Jerry—like cat-and-mouse cartoon; no one else is as attuned to the poetry hidden under pop detritus, or as capable of bringing it to light." Details
"[Millhauser's] work is among the most thought-provoking I've encountered, deftly layering character, emotion and intellect, beautiful and profound....[A] provocative collection..." The Los Angeles Times
"[Dangerous Laughter] shimmers with eccentric research, sinuous explorations of the mysteries of artistic creation and his preternatural sensitivity to the inner lives of children and adolescents." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Millhauser's stories are not mere ingenuity, although, Lord knows, they are devilishly clever. No, Millhauser is motivated by the same obsessions that drove Blake to see a world in a grain of sand, to affirm that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Interesting and deadpan as he is, skillful at playing with ideas, [Millhauser] is at his best when he draws us into the minds and hearts of high school students, with their terrible and complex lives." Hartford Courant
"[I]t delivers its treats in a prose of such melodic wit and finesse that it's more akin to musicmaking than storytelling....Dangerous Laughter reminds us once again how lucky we are to be privy to Millhauser's shadowy, funhouse visions." Seattle Times
"One reason why Steven Millhauser is consistently so much fun to read...is that he has never forgotten what it was like to be an 11-year-old boy, fueled by curiosity and wonder, trying to make the banal world around him fit his comic-book image of how things should be. But for all of their boyish enthusiasms and fantastic, even gothic, trappings, Millhauser's novels and stories deal with decidedly complex themes." Jeff Turrentine, Washington Post Book World
(read the entire Washington Post Book World review
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.
About the Author
Steven Millhauser is the author of numerous works of fiction and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Martin Dressler. His story "Eisenheim the Illusionist" was the basis of the 2006 film The Illusionist, starring Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti. His work has been translated into fourteen languages. He teaches at Skidmore College.