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Dangerous Laughter

Dangerous Laughter‘s opening paragraph gave me the impression that I would be reading not an anecdote about laughing parlors, but some philosophical record of a teenager who figured almost everything out over the course of this one “perilous summer.” This beginning was ominous and a bit melodramatic in it’s mention of an innocent spell of playtime going sour because of the boredom so often prescribed with teenage years. But, instead of being thrown off by Millhauser’s sometimes analytical material thrown (skillfully) in between plot and anecdotal material, I actually admired it; my favorite of those statements being “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. (75)”

Even hamsters join in on laughing parties!

These laughing parlors are actually quite hilarious (literally and in context) even when things go dark toward the end with Clara’s death. I’m sure of it that Millhauser’s intention with this story was not just to sell some outlandishly strange story about these bored teenagers striking a revolution against the mundane with laughter, but to create a metaphor. Throughout the length of the story, I connected it with institutionalization, feminism, religion, and innocence, but the metaphor that seemed to fit best with this story was that of science. The laughing parlors are built on the one of the very things that should come naturally to any human being. These kids made a science out of laughter; throwing their heads back, twitching their feet, losing most if not all connection with their bodies, and doing it all over again to a more extreme degree for the next meeting (or so they all hoped). The way they all became so addicted to their fits of laughter reminded me of Fight Club and The Virgin Suicides.

Millhauser crafted the story in a way where everything had its proper place, which made the story make sense. Sure, there were some surprises like Clara’s death and the kids becoming less interested in laughing and more in board games, but they don’t spark confusion. Millhauser seems to capture all the “right” details and all the “right” scenes to successfully evince these characters and their stories. In my own writing, I pay attention to detail like describing the setting or a character’s clothing, but Millhauser does well in both that and his seemingly innate attention to plot and what is needed in storytelling and what is extraneous and unnecessary. I seem to go off on tangents when I am writing, like “She was sad, but she loved that bookcase laced in renaissance etchings of angels made from antique cedarwood.”

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