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Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  1,877 Ratings  ·  316 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

Published 2009 by Vintage Contemporaries (first published 2008)
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Nandakishore Varma
Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser is a difficult book to rate. It is a collection of short stories, but one has stretch the definition of "story" by quite a lot to call some of them by that name. Many are what can be called "sketches" - of an idea, of a person or of a situation. All of them are idea driven: the characters are placed there just to serve as vehicles for the ideas (in this aspect, and with respect to the weirdness of the tales, Millhauser resembles Lord Dunsany to a great ext ...more
Steven Millhauser, nacido en Nueva York en 1943, ganador del Premio Pulitzer por ‘Martin Dressler’, es un escritor esquivo, al estilo de Salinger y Pynchon, un escritor que huye de las entrevistas y al que no le gusta ser fotografiado. Hace unos años, saltó a la fama cuando se adaptó un cuento suyo, ‘Eisenheim el ilusionista’, dando lugar a la más que aceptable película ‘El ilusionista’.

Millhauser es un escritor dado a incluir elementos fantásticos en sus historias, algo que puede echar atrás a
Sep 19, 2012 Madeline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I rarely buy short story collections unless I'm already familiar with the author, and before this I had never heard of Steven Millhauser (or I thought I hadn't, anyway - it wasn't until I finished the book and read the author bio that I realized he was the guy who wrote "Eisenheim the Illusionist," which was the basis for the movie The Illusionist). I never would have read this on my own, but luckily I have an awesome relative who, for my Christmas gift one year, gave me secondhand copies of thr ...more
Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser (Knopf, 2008).

Of all the writers I know, Steven Millhauser has probably the most uncanny imagination, the biggest range in themes, and at the same time, the most recognizable (ie., unique) style.

The first story in Dangerous Laughter, “Cat’ n’ Mouse,” is written like a precise report of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. In fact, having watched dozens of episodes of the latter as a teenager (on Romanian TV!), I am convinced that Millhauser has written many of the pas
Dec 14, 2008 Joseph rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: enemies
Recommended to Joseph by: nytimes top 10 list; BC3
Shelves: fict
I had heard quite a bit about Millhauser being this great modern practitioner of the modern short story and then I read his essay about "The Ambition of the Short Story" in the New York Times Book Review and wanted to give him a shot, but ultimately I found this collection wanting.

The stories seem to make their point and then stretch themselves and then overstretch themselves and then beat you over the head with their message.

The first story, a story that people seem to be tripping oversleves t
Mar 23, 2008 Melinda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Odd ducks and loners
This batch of freaky fables is like a trip to the Museum of Human Frailty: each story a carefully composed diorama displaying realms of excess, obsession, and emptiness. Although I really did enjoy this collection (particularly the haunting "Vanishing Acts" section) I was a little disappointed in the predictable trajectory of the "Impossible Architectures" stories: one idea after another is pursued to the oblivion of its logical extreme, which got to be a bit redundant and numbing after a point. ...more
Jan 18, 2009 Katie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Katie by: New York Times 10 Notable books of 2008
I really liked the first few stories, a LOT. Then I was surprised when it switched into this third-rate Borges cerebral fairy tale stuff. I love Borges. Maybe part of why Borges is so good is, he knew when an idea only warranted a paragraph or two. As for this book, I would recommend getting it and reading the first few stories and then stopping and if you want to read some cerebral fairy tales, get yourself some Borges.
Jan 29, 2010 Shawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-lit
Thanks to a good friend, I have now been introduced to this exceptional writer. It always pleases me to find new, inventive writers who touch on my interests yet are writing in the "lit" world, as it implies to me a continuum of writing, without having to resort to either strict definitions of genre, nor this modern silliness of "there are no genres" or "lit is also a genre". I believe in porous borders.

In a way, the joy of these stories come in each unfolding to the reading eye like a paper flo
the thirteen short stories that comprise dangerous laughter are richly imagined and refreshingly inventive. after being unexpectedly charmed by the first five stories, however, the remainder of the book, for me, veered ever too closely to the realm of tedium. perhaps reading each story as they had first appeared in print (in the new yorker, tin house, harper's, et al) may have allowed their bewitching effects to endure, but reading them all in succession within this collection lent them an air o ...more
Feb 15, 2015 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My cursor hovered over the five-star for a second there. Close to it, man.

I happened upon this book in one of the best ways: aimlessly browsing a used-book-store. Picked it out and it instantly felt right, you know -- in a way I haven't had in awhile; knowing that this is the exact right time to read a certain book. I'd never heard of Steven Millhauser. The cover weirded me out. But the writing style. God.

Reading Millhauser is It's like reading the short stories of a modern American
Stories about obsession and excess that usually involve taking some idea or concept to fantastic extremes. Building an actual tower to heaven, laughing contests that threaten people's health and sanity, maintaining an exact replica of a town that serves no purpose other than looking at, building miniatures so small that no one can see them, and building a giant dome to cover an entire country are some of the ideas that are explored here.

My favorite was the first story which is basically a descri
Felice Picano
Jul 21, 2015 Felice Picano rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a fan since his 1982 novel, Edwin Mulhouse--I have a first edition-- and he's among the most interesting of contemporary writers. He doesn't usually bother with the kind of usual realism so popular among people who give out literary prizes--i.e. another b.o.r.i.n.g. hetero divorce. And his stories usually defy categorization. They are almost always intriguing, as they are here. But one of them has that quality of great stories that should last forever, the kind of story that lifts the hair o ...more
Dec 06, 2016 Pantelis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here, the master storyteller tests the limits of storytelling, the limits of telling, the limits of language... Lord Chandos' post scriptum... Read and laugh, at your own risk...
Jul 01, 2008 Rifftrafft rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
more/less a bunch of stories that explore human obsessions, the best of that bunch being the ones where those obsessions are about transcending our own physical/mental limitations. the plots are sweeping and very compressed, very reportorial and sometimes very parable-like. there is often no character per se--society at large, or the character of a given community, is the main character. so there's a story about a society building a tower all the way up to heaven. there's another story about a t ...more
Gregory Baird
Dec 03, 2008 Gregory Baird rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: literary fiction fans, Roberto Bolaño or "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" enthusiasts
Bizarre, profound, and gorgeously written, the thirteen stories in Steven Millhauser’s collection will transport the reader to a world that is strikingly similar to our own, but where impossibly strange things are dangerously possible. A lonely, ignored woman literally vanishes into thin air after preparing a cup of tea one night. In the titular story, a group of teenagers experiment with laughter as a potentially deadly new drug whose high they cannot resist. A miniaturist becomes obsessed with ...more
Jun 21, 2009 Theresa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Steven Millhauser, you had me at old-timey, "How do you do, madame?"

After a disappointing collection by what I thought was a reliable author, I picked up another set of short stories based purely on the appeal of its cover. According to the info. on the back, the image was culled from The Advertising Archives. Very Mad Men. Dangerous Laughter really took me by surprise. I know I probably shouldn't say this because the summer has barely begun and because I'll be damning myself with a barely ripe
May 24, 2010 Tung rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
In this collection of short stories, Millhauser presents to the reader various scenes set in a world that is a version of the real world, only with slightly surreal twists. Each twist applied by Millhauser forces the reader to examine different themes and concepts from unique perspectives. For example, in the titular story, the youth in a small town organize underground parties where the attendees laugh loudly and for long periods of time instead of drinking or doing drugs. This element of secre ...more
Feb 03, 2009 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thanks, February 2008, for publishing the funniest thing I've read all year. From Steven Millhauser's short story "Cat 'N' Mouse":

"The mouse is sitting in his chair with his feet on the hassock and his open book facedown on his lap. A mood of melancholy has invaded him, as if the brown tones of his room had seeped into his brain. He feels stale and out of sorts: he moves within the narrow compass of his mind, utterly devoid of fresh ideas. Is he perhaps too much alone? He thinks of the cat and w
Jan 09, 2009 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Millhauser, Steven. DANGEROUS LAUGHTER. (2008). ****. This is a collection of thirteen short stories by this Pulitzer Prize winning author. He has arranged them into three categories, along with an opening “cartoon.” The cartoon is a short story about a cat and a mouse – a la Tom and Jerry. The cat is always chasing the mouse, while the mouse successfully eludes him. The story then devolves into a closer examination by both characters as to what is the real meaning of their lifes. How should the ...more
May 23, 2008 Julie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I'd like to know who is reading this book and enjoying it??? This was a book club selection, so I felt compelled to at least try to get through this depressing morass. I can appreciate the artistry of the stories and the intellect which produced these smart, but boring tales. However, talk about too much of a good thing. I mean, hit me over the head with a hammer, with nihilism and the will to self-degenerate, self-abdicate. Sheesh! As intellectual exercises, some of these tales are intriguing, ...more
Jan 06, 2008 Frank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first encountered Millhauser in Harper's and The New Yorker. Encountering his work in a magazine is like unexpectedly finding a portal into an alternate universe. A man writes a letter to his wife in which he explains why he's elected to stop speaking because of the inadequacy of language. A miniaturist pursues his art past the threshold of the visible. Suicide becomes a popular fad in a suburban town.

Reading an entire book of MIllhauser's eerie stories in some way dampens the pleasure of his
Aug 03, 2015 Jonathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought I was trying a new author when I picked up this book. I was wrong: Millhauser is popular! This collection is full of stories that I had already read in McSweeney's or heard on NPR's Selected Shorts (two of them, no less!).

Like most experimental short fiction I found this to be hit-and-miss. Some of the stories were funny, some were genius, and others just seemed unstatisfying and pointlessly weird. I imagine that different readers, however, would assign those same labels to different
Mar 10, 2009 Alexis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first story is amazing. The rest are quaint. I feel like I'm reading Robert Louis Stevenson or old 40s SF (think John Wyndham). Meanwhile there's a whiff of ambition to sound like DeLillo. People think if you're not into them you don't like the intellectualism or "distance" but when the narrator recites a 14-item list of what "we of the Historical Society" provide in their archives, it's just filler to set the pedantic, sly style of the narration. And the intellect gets bored reading filler ...more
Dec 14, 2015 Conor rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
If Borges were bloodless, these are the stories he would write. This was the first book I've read in recent memory where the author seemed like he was bored writing it. I made it about 70% through before I gave up. Most of the stories do not have a single line of dialogue, which makes for a surprising amount of tedium in a short story book. The same list that recommended this book recommended "Tenth of December" by Saunders, which I devoured. I'm not sure if I'm unfairly comparing it to that or ...more
Mar 13, 2010 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aside from the opening story, which I found a bit cliche, there are some really creative ideas in Millhauser's stories. Like other reviewers here I did sometimes feel like he belabored the point of his stories, but he usually did so in such an inventive engaging way that I didn't often mind.
That being said, one thing that I did kind of miss from the stories was any real sense of emotion, there was always a level of detachment that nagged at me after several stories. The exception to this was the
Sep 20, 2015 Yasmeen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I may or may not have neglected homework to read this.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the first Millhauser collection that I read (Knifethrower), this one is stronger. I'd be looking at the last page of a story with regret, only to find myself sharply pulled into the next one. Millhauser is smart and incredibly engaging- this particular bunch reminded me a little of Calvino. Very curious to see how he translates into the world of novel.
Tintin W
Mar 05, 2015 Tintin W rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Right now I am reading Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser. It is a short book with 13 individual short stories. The stories are truly amazing and the author did an excellent job portraying themes in all the stories I have read so far. It is very different from anything I have read before making it even more enjoyable. I think without a doubt that everyone should read this book!
Julio Reyes
Oct 11, 2013 Julio Reyes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Millhouser es capaz de crear locuras posibles, consecuencias que parecen naturales, de cualquiera de las obsesiones contemporáneas.
Adam Krause
A low-cal smoothie blend of Calvino, Borges, Barthelme and Bradbury without any of the juice or pulp.
John Pappas
Jul 27, 2011 John Pappas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this now.
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“After all, we were young. We were fourteen and fifteen, scornful of childhood, remote from the world of stern and ludicrous adults. We were bored, we were restless, we longed to be seized by any whim or passion and follow it to the farthest reaches of our natures. We wanted to live – to die – to burst into flame – to be transformed into angels or explosions. Only the mundane offended us, as if we secretly feared it was our destiny . By late afternoon our muscles ached, our eyelids grew heavy with obscure desires. And so we dreamed and did nothing, for what was there to do, played ping-pong and went to the beach, loafed in backyards, slept late into the morning – and always we craved adventures so extreme we could never imagine them. In the long dusks of summer we walked the suburban streets through scents of maple and cut grass, waiting for something to happen.” 66 likes
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