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Hard Laughter

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  2,134 ratings  ·  161 reviews
Anne Lamott's poignant first novel, reissued in an attractive new edition.

Writer (and sometime housecleaner) Jennifer is twenty-three when her beloved father, Wallace, is diagnosed with a brain tumor. This catastrophic discovery sets off Anne Lamott's unexpectedly sweet and funny first novel, which is made dramatic not so much by Wallace's illness as by the emotional wake
Paperback, 290 pages
Published April 15th 1979 by North Point Press
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3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,134 ratings  ·  161 reviews

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Nov 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This was a book I thought about giving up on many times. There are three reasons why I continued: 1) I want to like Anne Lamott's fiction because I so loved Bird by Bird, 2) the theme of the book -- dealing with a father's failing health -- was a personal connection, and 3) I hoped to find an answer to why the author would choose to give her 23-year old protagonist a best friend who was only 10 years old.

In the end, I liked moment of Anne Lamott's fiction. I would give her another try because I
Aug 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed-books
Give me anything by Anne Lamott and I will read it.
Paul Shirley
Aug 28, 2014 rated it did not like it
I think many nonfiction books should be pamphlets.

This novel should have been a short story. A very, very short story.

Yes, it is, at times, funny and sweet but good god, make something happen. <- What I was thinking, during most of the book.

Like many, I'm sure, I picked up Hard Laughter because I love Lamott's take on Shitty First Drafts; I thought I ought to read some of her fiction so as to see what she was talking about in Bird by Bird.

So now I have, and won't make that mistake again!
Debra Hale-Shelton
Sep 28, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Lamott fans, but only those who have already read her far-better works
When I interviewed Anne Lamott in 1999, she said "Hard Laughter" was her worst book. I have not read all of her books, but I've read "Bird by Bird," which I found to be a wonderful guide to good writing; "Tender Mercies," and "Operating Instructions." Unlike these non-fiction books, "Hard Laughter" is billed as a novel, yet anyone familiar with Lamott's life knows much of the book is autobiographical. I have not read any of Lamott's other novels. But of the books I have read, "Hard Laughter" \ i ...more
Leila T.
Jan 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I was expecting this book to cover the whole bell curve of her father's illness, from diagnosis of brain tumor to passing, concentrating heavily on things like days visiting him in hospital, ethical quandaries, and a daughter's hagiography of her father.

Instead it was more like Some Several Months In The Life Of The Author, During Which Her Father Begins Treatment For A Possibly Malignant Tumor. It was much, much more about the protagonist (the author), her thoughts and life. And it is therefore
The main thing I would say about this book is that I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. That doesn't mean I would specifically say "Don't read this" - but literally, I can't think of anyone I'd say "Here, read this" to, and that's unusual for me. With pretty much any book, I can think of one or two specific people who I think would like it, get something out of it, what have you. But this's so..meh. It's not awful, but it's so oddly's partially stream-of-consciousness, but th ...more
May 28, 2011 rated it liked it
I was trying to read the Anne Lamott books in order, but I just got this 1979 one, after I had started my reading, so it's out of order. So I already know a lot of the facts of the (apparently, most autobiographical) story from reading the other books. Still, there's lots in the book besides the facts. I'm enjoying getting to know this Anne Lamott. It's like finally getting to meet a friend of friends--I've heard so much about her.
Jun 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read for anyone whose family has survived tragedy and loss with love and dark humor. I love this family because it reminds me of my own. Anne's struggle to cope with her father's terminal illness hit very, very close to home. I love this book.
Jun 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
I love Lamott's voice. the dialogue in this book is some of her best writing. The characters are perfectly drawn. Worth reading!
Sep 08, 2014 rated it liked it
This is Anne Lamott’s first novel. It is also the first Anne Lamott novel I read.
Maybe if I didn’t know her themes so well, it wouldn’t have felt so painfully, awkwardly autobiographical, but because I have read some of her memoirs, I cringed at how transparently the sweet but screwy protagonist, Jennifer, represented the author.

Jennifer is 23 and her father has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor. She seems to have an unacknowledged drinking problem. She isn’t religious but the numinous
Taylor Franks
Jul 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: memoir readers
Anne Lamott is someone you have to read to understand. That seems obvious, but my thought was that she was some Christian author in the vain of Don Miller, Rob Bell. I thought this because I have read both Miller and Bells books and they have references to Lamott and how much they enjoy her work. My assumption could not be more off. Lamott writes with humor and strange clairty. She has details in the setting and characters that are truly brillant. Hard Laughter is not a overly happy book and I f ...more
May 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This one will stick with me. Not because it was a page-turner, or incredible plot twists, or anything I can really put my finger on. It was a story of a family and how they handled the father's brain tumor. And it wasn't necessarily different or unique than how the rest of us might handle it in real life. Which is why it was so good. It was just so true. And Lamott's characters are really real, and even if you are different than the basic outlines of the characters, she writes them in such a way ...more
May 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: readin12
I think this is not a great book.....but it's a funny, serious telling of a short period of life. Mostly Anne Lamotts life, probably. And I was always savoring the time that I spent reading her story and salivating for the time when I could get back to it and hear what happened next. I began to wish I lived around the corner from Anne Lamott. I think I felt like I could be friends her character, Jen, and this novel was kind of like a chat at the coffee shop with her.

The story that can draw you i
Jessica Bell
Dec 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Another plotless wonder. LOVED it. Would probably have given it five stars had my attention not wandered a few times. Some conversations go on forever and you sort of lose touch with the point. But otherwise, VERY funny. I 'laughed hard' a number of times. So much so that I slipped into one of those silent fits where tears start streaming your face. Being Lamott's debut, I can't wait to start reading more of her more recent works!
Jul 14, 2010 rated it it was ok
I won't say it was awful...there were times when it was funny and heart breaking...but overall the book didn't grab me...and it was a struggle to read it. I did like the chapters being one thought about something...the story wasn't totally continuous...but I guess I will have to try again when I am in the mood for something like this...
Feb 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good writing...crazy time era!
This book was a struggle to read/want to read/finish. Another reviewer said "it's written in stream-of-consciousness style..the bad part." I agree. There were moments that I enjoyed, but this should have been much shorter. Like a twelve page short story instead of a 290 page novel. The plot describes a close-knit family comprised of dad (Wallace) and three adult-children (Ben, Jen, Randy) as they navigate life after Wallace is diagnosed with a brain tumor then endures surgery and radiation thera ...more
Feb 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, california
I thoroughly enjoyed this. The book cover says "It is a moving and strangely joyful book, a kind of celebration, and it is written with assurance far beyond the reach of most first novelists."
Lamott has a gift for nailing interactions between family members, some of which I've had to read out loud to my spouse. And, along the way, I've learned a couple of new words, like "scintillant" and "hebephrenia," which might give you pause about putting this on your reading list. But, how can you not lov
Feb 17, 2017 rated it liked it
I really liked this book. It wasn't a "can't put it down until it's finished" book, but it definitely kept me interested. I had checked it out from the library, and since it was an interlibrary loan I could only renew it twice and had to renew it before I reached the end. I definitely felt the need to have closure with these characters and had to request this book again, which I ended up finishing in one sitting.

I really enjoyed Anne Lamott's characters and how real they felt to me. I actually
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I heard about Anne Lamott through a random quote of hers that really touched me. : "The reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is NUTS on the same day."
Earth-shattering and profound, I said. I must read more from this Wise One!
That led me to Hard Laughter.
The story is about a family that deals with the father's diagnosis of a brain tumor. It could go all dreary and maudlin based on that topic, but is obviously NOT Lamott's writing style.
She takes us through LIFE as the famil
May 13, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm a dedicated Anne Lamott enthusiast but this book was not a good read for me. As hard as I tried I could only make it half way before I had to quit. Three stars is generous, but maybe you'll have a better experience with it...
Mylinda Mayfield Lawhun
I saw an interview with Anne Lamott and thought she was wonderful. She's quirky and funny which spurred me to read one of her books. This book is, like her, quirky and funny, It is filled with oddball characters, some of them related and all of them might as well be since they are all so intimately close. Anne Lamott seems to have a knack for portraying love and laughter even when the subject is heartbreaking. This was the author's first novel and I am looking forward to reading more of her work ...more
Diane Adams
Jul 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was so happy to hear about Anne Lamott's 1st book that I had somehow overlooked. I was summer deep into the pages and would have sailed though this wonderful story, but had to take breaks to let some of the pages sit with me for a while, and then real life breaks to enjoy family and friends. But I have just finished and almost want to start over just to enjoy it again. Her characters just come right off the page. The main plot involves the family dealing with a father who has a brain tumor, an ...more
Feb 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was plesantly surprised by this book. you could feel the struggle the main character Jen is going through professionally and personally. Her father who is stricken with an illness and how their family ( a close one ) deals with it. The struggles the main character faces with intimacy/relationship issues. Brilliant story telling that leaves the reader really feeling like by the end of the book they have lived the story themselves. That to me is the test of a truly remarkable story teller. This ...more
Jul 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
Part of me wanted to give this book more stars because her characters ring true and I relate to their neuroses. And you can't help but like the family she describes. But the book just didn't hold together. I thought it was like short stories strung together in some ways -- characters who seemed important but faded again from the scene almost immediately. ANd there were times when I thought the narrator character seemed self-absorbed and whiny. So... I like Lamott & think she's funny and real ...more
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I was delighted to rediscover this incredible book by Anne Lamott. HARD LAUGHTER tells the story of 23-year-old writer Jennifer whose father Wallace is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Jennifer and her brothers - along with friends and family - experience a roller coaster of emotions that ultimately draw this quirky family ever closer together. With a great eye for detail and a deft sense of humor, Lamott brings every character, including the town they live in, to life, making the reader care about ...more
Aug 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Like her memoir, this is basically a series of reflections on different themes drawn from a portion of her life, in this case, her father's treatment for a brain tumor. She reflects provocatively on her appreciation for her family, her friends, & the landscape that surrounds her. She is everything that normally annoys me--self-absorbed, self-pitying, casual about drugs, alcohol, & sex--but she's also so self-aware & self-deprecating & charming with such grace that I forgive her a ...more
Aug 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
If there was ever a book that encapsulated my view of life at this moment, this would be it.
Oscillating between "so funny it's sad" and "so sad it's funny," full of not-quite resolved bitterness and weird situations, having moments of ridiculity that make the reader soar and think about just how absurd life can be, and how the only way to get through it is laugh about it and get through it with those you love. Some work on what love is too. It's tough and sober and delusional. It is the train r
May 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I am a great fan of Anne Lamott's amazing writing skill and heartfelt storytelling. This one is a little on the lackluster side.

Wallace has to have brain surgery and his three children rally round to cope together. They are a slightly dysfunctional in the way most families are, but they really love each other and have learned to live in relative peace.

I like her rabbit trail writing meandering that eventually lands in poignant pithiness, but Hard Laughter is a little too meandering without arriv
Mar 12, 2013 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I didn't connect with the characters and I'm not sure why. Maybe it was the vast difference in their outlook and lifestyle relative to what I am used to but I know there have been many books where I could never imagine being the character in the book but I liked them anyway. I didn't really like Jennifer - I didn't understand her relationship with Megan or Kathleen. I think I liked Randy the best - and of course Wallace - but neither enough for me to b ...more
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Anne Lamott is an author of several novels and works of non-fiction. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, her non-fiction works are largely autobiographical, with strong doses of self-deprecating humor and covering such subjects as alcoholism, single motherhood, and Christianity. She appeals to her fans because of her sense of humor, her deeply felt insights, and her outspoken views on topics such ...more
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