Thirteen darkly comic stories, Dangerous Laughter
is a mesmerizing journey that stretches the boundaries of the ordinary world.
“Remarkable. . . . Not just brilliant but prescient.” —D. T. Max, The New York Times Book Review“Readers seeking the perfect introduction to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steven Millhauser need look no further. . . . Dangerous Laughter draws on every facet of his imagination. . . . It's more akin to music-making than storytelling.” —Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times “Millhauser's best story collection. . . . Every reader knows of writers who are like secrets one wants to keep yet whose books one wants to tell the world about. Steven Millhauser is mine.” —David Rollow, The Boston Globe “Enchanting. . . . Steven Millhauser is a marvel.” —Daniel Dyer, The Plain Dealer“Millhauser . . . is our most brilliant practicing romantic, for whom surface reality is merely an uninteresting illusion.” —Charles May, San Francisco Chronicle“[An] absorbing, impeccably imagined collection.” —Gregory Kirschling, Entertainment Weekly “Beautiful and profound. . . . Millhauser's work is among the most thought-provoking I've ever encountered.” —David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times Book Review “Dangerous Laughter groups three sets of smart, darkly obsessive stories around the themes of risk-taking, imaginary places, and ersatz biographies, all led off by a crazy cartoon cat-and-mouse slapstick drama rendered with pure cloak-and-dagger delight.”—Lisa Shea, Elle“Tales fueled by curiosity and wonder, from a master . . . [who] is consistently so much fun to read . . . Everything one has come to want and expect in Millhauser’s fiction is here–spooky attics, fantastic inventions, artists driven mad, and ambitious enterprises that become overattenuated and impossible to sustain. The result is almost a Steven Millhauser primer, a much needed fix for fans . . . and a perfect introduction for those unacquainted with his writing. . . . [‘A Precursor to the Cinema’ and ‘The Wizard of West Orange’ are] marvelous stories that make the suspension of disbelief feel like no work whatsoever . . . Millhauser has done nothing here to diminish his reputation as one of our most dazzling storytellers. ‘It was said that no matter how closely you examined one of the Master’s little pieces, you always discovered some further wonder,’ he writes of his obsessive court miniaturist [in ‘In the Reign of Harad IV’]. The same could be said of Steven Millhauser.”—Jeff Turrentine, The Washington Post Book World“Reviewers use words like enchantment recklessly, as though it happens to us all the time. Book reviewers are especially prone to describing books as ‘enchanting,’ pretending that a spell has actually been cast over us. If only it were so. As often as not, it is a spell of boredom. Steven Millhauser’s books are the exception. . . . [‘Cat ‘n’ Mouse’] sounds like a ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon as written by Franz Kafka. Or Sigmund Freud. . . .[It is] indelibly vivid . . . hard-edged and bright as a plasma screen . . . In ‘The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman,’ a young woman disappears from inside her apartment without a trace. . . . Millhauser turns an ordinary whodunit into a tale of obscure people who slowly disappear out of apparent volition. . . . There is no more poignant note in Millhauser than this: the sense of life that has come to nothing, as we understand that Elaine Coleman has committed a metaphysical form of suicide: willing herself out of existence because in the eyes of others she has already been erased. In the most haunted story of them all, ‘The Room in the Attic,’ Millhauser introduces us to a high school boy whose friend’s sister, Isabel, lives in an attic shut off completely from light. . . .There are few writers in America better at striking the note of longing, of missed opportunity, of life taking uncanny and unfathomable turns. The utter weirdness of the young man in a pitch black room, held rapt and immobile by the lure of an unseen and teasing young woman is the very essence of estrangement itself. Millhauser is the maestro of the creepy. In reading [Dangerous Laughter] the reader experiences what Millhauser himself must feel as he writes these Kafkaesque stories of real mystery in imaginary suburbs.”—Mark Shechner, The Buffalo News“A sense of mystery and strangeness pervades these 13 stories . . . Millhauser’s intelligence and originality shine through on every page. Recommended.”—Lawrence Rungren, Library Journal“Exhilarating . . . [Millhauser] has taken strange, magical ideas and crystallized stories around them. . . . He takes abstractions and fleshes them out, without ever losing sight of their wonder, or of the inherent humor of human desire. He’s like Borges, but funny. And while there aren’t really characters, in the sense of people with feeling and motives (other than obsession), you come to know these outlandish ideas like old friends. Millhauser explores every nook and cranny of the strange, and shows us what it might be like to live in a world where we pushed just a little further–or rather, much, much further–into the realm of the mysterious and unknown. . . . Dangerously good.”—Cris Rodriguez, BostonNow.com“Imaginative . . . masterful. [Dangerous Laughter] opens with a story about Tom and Jerry–that’s right, cartoon characters. But it doesn't resort to easy pop-cultural winking at the reader. Instead, Millhauser portrays this manic animated world with precise, flat descriptions that are more akin to Chekhov than Loony Tunes. It’s a risky opener, but what could have been cutesy nostalgia turns out to be a tale of concentrated dread. . . . As fantastical as each of [Millhauser’s] stories may be, they never seem more than a notch away from reality. . . . Five stars.”—Ken Foster, Time Out New York“Excellent . . . a substantial treat. Millhauser may criticize the pleasures of escapism in his fiction, but he provides them himself. . . . He takes the institutions of fun–parks, pleasure domes, fun houses–as his subject matter, [and] describes just what it feels like to enter these magic kingdoms . . . capturing the very feeling of childhood innocence. The title story imagines laughter that is literally dangerous–a teen cult of extreme, hour-long laughter grips a suburban community for one summer–and thereby brings the idea of danger back to the point where fantasy takes control. That moment of release guides almost all of his plots. It is true that one character, a previously quiet girl who becomes queen of the uninhibited laugh, actually dies. But the sense of danger upon which the story balances is that of midsummer restlessness–of initiation. The danger is, in a word, sweet . . . ‘In the Reign of Harad IV’ deserves special mention: It concerns a man of ambition who is not a master builder, but an artist. He has been working for years on a miniature version of King Harad’s palace, but his taste for the nearly invisible leads him to create objects so deliciously tiny that they actually are invisible–and thus his fame and fortune ends.”—Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun“Entrancing . . . Millhauser’s stories of obsession and paranoia explore the bewitching, undefined space between perception and reality, evoking a disquieting supern