Paul here, I’m out washing my hair, out of town, on the lam, in hiding, so D.J. Adamson is filling in for me this week. D.J. has a terrific blog and newsletter and a new mystery, Suppose, the second in her Lillian Dove Mystery series. She’s also the author of the Deviation science fiction-suspense trilogy. She also teaches writing and literature at Los Angeles colleges. And to keep busy when she is not writing or teaching, she is the Membership Director of the Los Angeles Sisters in Crime, Vice President of Central Coast Sisters in Crime and an active member of the Southern California Mystery Writers. Her books can be found and purchased in bookstores and on Amazon. To find her, her blog L’Artiste, or her newsletter that interviews and reviews authors go to http://www.djadamson.com. Make friends with her on Facebook or Goodreads.
So take it away D.J.!
Of Course, It’s Funny; It’s Always About Us.
by D.J. Adamson
I was blubbering like a baby.
Two weeks later, he stopped again. “Best book?” This time, I was laughing and hooting.
It’s what truly makes a book memorable, isn’t it? The ability of the author to hook into human emotions and not let go. I remember which novel that made me literally sob for its last 150 pages: Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina. The novel that embarrassingly caused other passengers to think I’d lost my mind: Heller’s Catch-22.
"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
"And what difference does that make?"
Heller’s use of satire and black comedy to create a statement on the war was hilariously memorable and poignant.
Authors like Stephen King use humor to ease suspense and tension. Some of King’s comedy is horrifically funny…”Here’s Johnny.” Others use black comedy to take a tragic situation and make a comment about the human response to it: Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions or Slaughterhouse-Five; Adam’s Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces.
In my own work, I use sarcasm as a humorous means to get my character’s point across, (also to amplify her pent up resentments). I use comedic behavior as a method to demonstrate our continual attempt to “get it.”
I am thinking of my latest Lillian Dove novel Suppose. Lillian returns to Davenport, Iowa, a city from her dark past, and she spots a dumpster diver she remembers. Now after her sobriety and creating a new reality for herself, she sees herself as having a higher, unique awareness.
I’d once admired how he always seemed to know where he was going. Sure footed, he’d walked the same route day after day, safe in his routine. Sure of his path. But since my path had taken me elsewhere, I could now understand how a person can get on the gerbil wheel of going nowhere fast. Running to beat hell, around and around and around, only to end up in the same place.
I slowed. Hold it. Where was his cart? The rusty-wired cart with the squeaky wheels? It was never more than ten feet away in case someone came by, saw the value of his valuables, and decided to make them his own. Had he been robbed? The thought melted away my arrogance. It’s hard to come up with an answer, why me and not him? A toss of life’s dice? If I wouldn’t have quit drinking, it could easily be me pushing around the cart, hoping for enough recycle to buy a drink to warm my blood, or finding leftover food so I wouldn’t have to spend any money on nutritional sustenance.
I pulled over. I should give him a little money.
When I parked, I checked to see where Ben was and found him straightening up from the trash, his hands full of empty cans. He turned toward me as if he could sense he was being spied upon.
I was wrong. It wasn’t Ben. What happened to Ben?
Did that make a difference? It wasn’t my Crazy Ben, but it was a Ben nevertheless. I pulled a twenty out of my billfold and walked over.
As I came closer, he hurried and dumped his cans into a black, trash sack I now saw setting on the other side of the trash can.
“Here.” I held out the bill.
“Go away,” he yelled.
“No, you don’t understand. This is a gift.”
“Get away from me. I’m not doing no harm.”
“Of course you aren’t.” Poor soul. “Take this. Get a warm meal.”
“I don’t need your money. Get away from me.”
He snorted a lungful of air through his nose, leaned back, and aimed at huge, blob of spit. If I wouldn’t have moved faster, I’d have been wearing it.
He inhaled another mouthful.
I raced back to the car.
What was I doing back here? Why had I come? People don’t change.
She realizes by coming back, she, too, is running in that gerbil wheel. Around, around, around, still trying to “get it” even after five years sober.
Okay, so I am not a Heller, King, or Vonnegut. But I am working to use comedy as a tool for offering a comedic response to the perceptions we make. Especially when we think that somehow we have risen “above” the masses who just haven’t “got it.”
"Catch-22...says you've always got to do what your commanding officer tells you to."
"But Twenty-seventh Air Force says I can go home with forty missions."
"But they don't say you have to go home. And regulations do say you have to obey every order. That's the catch. Even if the colonel were disobeying a Twenty-seventh Air Force order by making you fly more missions, you'd still have to fly them, or you'd be guilty of disobeying an order of his. And then the Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters would really jump on you."
Check out Akashic's St. Louis Noir anthology with my short story Deserted Cities of the Heart.
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