Dangerous Laughter
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Dangerous Laughter

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  1,494 ratings  ·  279 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

...more
Hardcover, 244 pages
Published February 12th 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf (first published 2008)
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Alta
Mar 13, 2012 Alta added it
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...more
Madeline
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
Joseph
Feb 28, 2009 Joseph rated it 2 of 5 stars
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...more
Melinda
Apr 06, 2008 Melinda rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
Shawn
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...more
jeremy
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
Katie
Jan 31, 2009 Katie rated it 2 of 5 stars
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.
Oscar
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...more
James
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...more
Tung
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
Rifftrafft
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 28, 2008 Gregory Baird rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Julie
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
Theresa
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...more
Frank
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...more
Alexis
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
Melanie
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...more
Adam Krause
A low-cal smoothie blend of Calvino, Borges, Barthelme and Bradbury without any of the juice or pulp.
Jen
Jul 26, 2009 Jen added it
These stories are so much fun. I can't put this down.
Thomas
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Roof Beam Reader
Summary:
Steven Millhauser’s Dangerous Laughter is a collection of 13 short stories, separated into 3 “categories” or “studies:” 1) Vanishing Acts 2) Impossible Architecture and 3) Heretical Histories. The collection also begins with a short story called “Cat and Mouse,” which Millhauser classifies as his “Opening Cartoon.” The whole effect of this sub-divided compilation with cartoony introduction is to make the collection come across similarly to a 1950s late-night Hitchcockian television serie...more
Matt Stalbaum
Aside from the first story, which is little more than a Tom & Jerry cartoon with some psychological sparsely placed around, the stories in this collection each take the world, add one strange element - laughter, domes, the past - and take it to the farther extreme that it can go. Millhauser's imagination is not lacking for anything, and while one or two of the stories here were a bit predictable, the rest opened up worlds I hadn't even dreamed of, and brought them to amusing, then dark place...more
Mark
Many of Steven Millhauser's stories remind me of E.T.A. Hoffmann's. Dangerous Laughter contains stories with a wider array of styles than I'm used to from him. His earlier collections that I've read (The Knife Thrower, The Barnum Museum, In the Penny Arcade) are dominated by his imaginary histories of characters in the nineteen century who become experts in one of the burgeoning technologies of the era (clockwork automatons, magic, electricity, etc.). Dangerous Laughter has two stories along the...more
Steven
I loved these stories. They are surrealistic fables, somewhat in the spirit of Borges but with greater narrative drive and a sense of foreboding. Borges with just a dash of Ray Bradbury or Rod Serling, you might say. The result is both engaging and thought provoking, and beautifully rendered in language that is spare, precise, and evocative.

Millhauser is centrally concerned with the creative impulse as it is manifested in artistic endeavors, acts of invention and exploration, and flights of ima...more
Tony
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
Shari
I can see why some readers may appreciate this book, but not why it made the NYT list of best books of 2008. Totally not my style and, honestly, the stories are very, very weird.

I'm calling this book "read" even though I couldn't get through the last story. Each story seems to involve some sort of absurdity or paradox, and most also involve disappearance. I didn't really like the voice in most of the stories.

I very much read books for characters, character development, etc. These stories special...more
Garrett
Favorite Excerpt: "Fashion is an expression of boredom, of restlessness. The successful designer understands the ferocity of that boredom and provides it with new places in which to calm its rage for a while. Even as Hyperion free-style dresses were displayed in photo spreads in international magazines and promoted in vigorous poster campaigns, the designer was preparing his next step. IN his eagerly awaited spring/summer collection, he proclaimed the final liberation of costume from the female...more
Janice
ugh.

i was interested in this collection of short stories when it first came out in hardcover and i was working at the bookstore. contrary to the old adage, we do judge books by their covers, but we are at least decent enough to judge them positively as well as negatively. (by the way, the worst cover i've ever seen is
this one.)

anyway, i was intrigued by this cover, and even more so when i learned that it was a collection of somewhat fantastical-realist stories; they take place in the everyday w...more
laurenpie
Tedious, Tiring, Dry

I thoroughly loved Millhauser's 1990 short story, "The Barnum Museum", full of understated sparkle and wonder. Therefore I really hate to say it... but for me, this particular collection fell far short.

Though the ideas were creative, I found their execution repetitive and monotonous to the point of being tiring. There were few likable narrators. I do often enjoy long or slow-moving stories (e.g., I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and much of Charles Dickens, whilst ma...more
Christina Marie Rau
Steven Millhauser writes about not only the human experience, but also the cartoon experience. His most recent collection of shorts, Dangerous Laughter, begins by delving into the psyche of the cartoon cat and mouse, and their inevitable chase, the cat's compulsion and the mouse's smarts. How's that for a hook?

Split into three more parts, the collection has several voices. Vanshishing Acts deals with mysterious normalcies of life. It takes usual moments and sends them into absurdity. It plays wi...more
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