Thursday, February 22, 2007

a curious sort of humor.

I’m intrigued by the description of this collection as a “humor anthology,” because while I was reading it I didn’t find it all that humorous. I understand the concept of black comedy, and I did think that several stories were clever and had funny moments, but I don’t think that any of the pieces were written solely to amuse the reader. I’m not complaining, but I am confessing that when I see a book marked as a humor anthology I expect something much different from what I found in Humor Me.

For example, Sherman Alexie’s piece "Assimilation" does have some funny moments: the idea of a woman walking up to the first Native American man she sees and demanding sex, no matter how unattractive he is, the description of the children, and Mary Lynn and Jeremiah’s banter outside the restaurant are all amusing. But they are tempered by graver issues: Mary Lynn longs t have an affair even though she does not seem traditionally upset with her marriage, save for the fact that it is with a white man, her Indian-looking children are favored by other members of the family over her white-looking children, and Mary Lynn and Jeremiah reveal the tension in their relationship with their sharp conversation. The ending is undeniably serious; stories identified as humorous rarely end in suicide. I’m unsure if the reader is meant to be sympathetic to Mary Lynn; she’s done well for herself but is still obsessed with the problems that are caused (sometimes imaginarily, it seems) by her race.

Other stories are similarly inconsistent between humor and gravity. Often, it seems, the bare-bones plot seems funny, but the manner in which it’s fleshed out makes the story darker. Daddy in "Nelson’s Run" is almost a personification of exploitative capitalism, too out-there to be believed with his steady stream of Moms and admiring idolization of Ayn Rand. His all-American son falling into a semi-Oedipal relationship with his father’s first "colored" paramour is expected from her first appearance. But the ending, where he coldly abandons her to prison while he begins to adopt his father’s own ruthless character, was not something I found funny at all. Likewise with "Godoy Lives": a man adopts a dead man’s identity to sneak into the US and is adopted in turn by the dead man’s family, but he eventually loses his previous identity and forgets his own family. "Birthmates" is more character-driven, with the humor lying in the personality of the mild, overcautious Arthur Woo, but the descriptions of his former life with his ex-wife are truly saddening. I enjoyed the reading, but I’m interested in exploring how these stories were judged to be humorous pieces, when they seem to be much deeper. Possibly this is connected to the idea of using humor as a defense mechanism against the constant tragedies in life - I’d like to see if this is a theme with the other pieces in the book.

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