Friday, June 03, 2011

Funny Ha-Ha

Cathy Stonehouse in the Post:

It’s hard to be funny about death. It’s even harder to be funny about child rape, especially when it has happened to yourself. But Edward St. Aubyn does it, in Never Mind, the first volume of his fictional trilogy about his alter ego, Patrick Melrose. Well, the rape scene isn’t exactly funny, but the context surrounding it is. Patrick is raped almost off-handedly by his aristocrat father who clearly does not anticipate any consequences. In St. Aubyn’s crisp prose, the horror of the situation morphs into a terrifying absurdity. And unlike one might expect, the effect is uplifting, enraging yet liberating, not least because it allows for the fact that Melrose, aka St. Aubyn, survived.

Recently I took a clowning course here in Vancouver with the extremely talented David McMurray Smith. One of the exercises we had to do involved lying on our backs and engaging in short sharp exhalations. What was the point of that? I wondered as all of a sudden my diaphragm broke out into spasms. Suddenly I was giggling. Pretty soon I was downright hysterical. And after a week or two of this the laughter opened up its opposite: tears. These were harder to allow, but the swing, as David called it, was starting to happen. For the first time in my life I truly understood how inseparable sadness and joy are, humour and horror. The body movements (knees coming up to chest, head thrown back) are almost identical. And the end result—that pleasant chemical “brain wash”—is also the same.

Writing about Terrible Things is a bit of a downer, and difficult to market unless you play up the voyeurism factor, the lurid realism that somehow numbs as it entertains. Yet “light” fiction can be depressing too, like a bad summer movie.

Read the rest here.

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