Bud Smith's Reviews > Sad Laughter

Sad Laughter by Brian Alan Ellis
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it was amazing

I used to call Brian on the phone when I would walk around Target in Linden, NJ. He lived in Florida and I lived in New York City, and sometimes I would wind up in the Target store in Linden, NJ. So I'd call him on the telephone. Back then he had a flip phone and it felt like time traveling to call him down in Florida and talk to him on that flip phone. Most of the time he would be eating a bowl of cereal or something and would answer like this, "Wuuuuuuzzzzzz up, Bud!"

Another thing Brian would do when I called him on the phone while I was in Target in Linden, NJ, was that he would kind of exhale into the phone sometimes like a bull. It's always a good idea to exhale into the phone like a bull when you live in Florida and have a flip phone. The reason I would call Brian when I was in Linden, NJ at the Target was because I had to do some grocery shopping and I didn't like grocery shopping so I'd talk to my friend who didn't travel, my friend who he was such a good writer, but who thought that writing was a joke, or the way most people approached it was a joke, the way they were suckasses and jockeyed for some kind of fame. Meanwhile less and less people read books each year. One time I was in Target there was a bomb scare and they evacuated the store. I was saying as much on the phone and it seemed too surreal and inconsequential at the same time to put in a short story, or a novel, or anywhere, it even seems inconsequential to put here. After a few minutes they said we could go back into the store, and so we all went back into the store.

Brian Alan Ellis used to be a kind of recluse, a person who did no traveling. He would just stay at home with his girlfriend and watch wrestling. They'd hang out with their cat. A lot of writing got done. Books of short stories, all of them funny and excellent, seemingly influenced by a mix of Lydia Davis and Charles Bukowski, or if those two writers don't work for you, here try Barry Hannah and Lucia Berlin, or here try these two, Harry Crews and Anne Beattie, or here, try these two - Larry Brown and your mom. Brian wrote with a kindness but a disregard for PC culture because he was writing about characters who were not characters with MFAs in creative writing, as it seems most people were writing these days, instead Brian's narrators were the kinds of people who worked at the Sonic drive thru and were addicted to meth, how was a person narrating a story who actually lived in America and who was not flourishing in America supposed to have no anger and no ignorance? If you read a Brian Alan Ellis story, you'd more than find out.

When Brian and his girl broke up, him and the cat moved into a collapsing punk house and he and the cat began using drugs again. It was a lot of fun. Brian and the cat would snort a bunch of cocaine and Brian and the cat would get blackout drunk. And he'd tweet about it. He was writing less and less short stories and focusing more on tweeting about it, tweeting about his life actually falling apart in the real world, and not just feeling like it was falling apart as Mellissa Broder tweets as @sosadtoday. These tweets were transmissions of pain and suffering and boredom and a kind of digital gunshot at the kinds of people who live in academic bubbles and think that art should not be made by people who haven't put in the time at an academic bubble, who aren't still bubbling in that bubble, who don't bubble in the bubble at woodsy retreats where other bubble people show up on white horses and bubble on and on about bubble life and tenure track and bubble bubble bubble Joan Didion bubble bubble Keats bubble bubble Proust bubble bubble. Brian worked in a restaurant serving drunk people who would then go and vomit the food up in the bathroom and he would go clean the vomit up that he had served them because he was the janitor too.

Meanwhile at Target, I bought printer ink, computer paper, a frozen pizza and I considered for a long time whether or not to buy an inflatable hot tub to put in my apartment on 173rd street.

Brian decided not to be a recluse anymore. He came to Philadelphia and then he came to Brooklyn, where we did a literary reading. He had a smart phone now. He was smarter. The days went on. Civil Coping Mechanisms decided to publish this book. They had gotten smarter, too. Sad Laughter is a profound book because it exists in a place in the universe full of dread and a clear-eyed meeting of doom's gaze right in its eyes but it accomplishes that through a series of one-liners and insults, often aimed right back at the artist himself. This is stand up comedy where you're not supposed to laugh, you're supposed to have an existential crisis and then laugh because laughter is part of the existential crisis. To me that is the most best kind of art. A kind of anti-art. Something made of gold that feels like it was constructed with whatever was around, and all that was around was vomit, and pain, and a small bucket of blood. I'd say that this book is in the same league as the first chapter of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter House Five. Sure, Brian didn't survive any kind of fire bombing in WWII but his writing has the same kind of euphoric wonder to it, and that euphoric wonder adds up to something like this: Sure I didn't suffer a traditional catastrophe, but joke is on you, every day of being alive is a personal catastrophe. There's no heroes or villains in Brian's writing either. There's just everyone on this planet and they are all marching in the same parade, stepping along towards death and trying to pretend it is not happening.

I called Brian on the phone and I noticed on my phone that I had set the screen to show The Joker when it was ringing his phone. This had happened years before Sad Laughter. The Joker with his hands on his head, hahahahahahahaha, that illustration from The Killing Joke drawn by Brian Bolland in a graphic novel written by Alan Moore. It fit Brian and I guess it was a kind of psychic vision into the future, to right now, when he would have a book called Sad Laughter, because there was nothing sadder than the goddamn Joker. He didn't answer the phone and I leaned against the shelves of Target and sent a text message because now Brian could text message. His phone was smart. I texted, Yo, your book is really great I just read it at work. And he texted back that I should write the introduction to the book. So I did that. And you should buy Sad Laughter and read that, or you should go to your local library and say, Hey get this book so I can read it for free.

It won't be long until everybody is bubbling in their bubble about Brian Alan Ellis. They'll be mad that he took the shortcut and didn't bubble in their bubble. And instead of bubbling in their bubble he put in a decade of hard work on the underground, making no attempt at networking, making no moves towards fame, cleaning up the vomit from the toilet bowl from the food he had served the drunk people, falling in the swamp delirious on cocaine, typing in a sweltering room, his cat staring at him, wrestling on the TV, and the bubble over there bubbling and drinking cocktails together and complaining about how their students just don't get it, how the dean just doesn't get it, how a person should be canceled for writing about this or that at the moment off-limits thing. Well, get this, Brian Alan Ellis is one of the best living writers in America and he has a pulse and over by the soups my phone rang and I answered it and the man said, "Wuuuuuuzzzz up, Bud!"
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Reading Progress

October 4, 2018 – Started Reading
October 5, 2018 – Finished Reading
October 6, 2018 – Shelved

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message 1: by Chelsea (new) - added it

Chelsea C Your book reviews have become one of my favorite things to read; I’ll be sure to make Sad Laughter an upcoming read for this year.


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