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Laughin' Boy by Bradley Denton

Bradley Denton is well known as a satirical writer. Lunacy was a very tongue-in-cheek romance novel, Blackburn was the pop-culture/serial killer novel that American Psycho wanted to be, and several of his short stories relate somehow to Mark Twain, a writer to whom he has been compared on more than one occasion. It's no surprise, then, to see that Laughin' Boy is in that same vein, this time taking jabs at the media and its control over American life.

This novel was difficult to get into at first, because of its basic premise: Danny Clayton, an average divorced man who teaches technical writing at the local technical college, is on the scene of a massacre at a local music festival in Wichita, Kansas, and is the only survivor in the middle of the bloodbath. A camcorder, being held and run by a dying man, captures Danny laughing hysterically at the events around him. This footage is shown over all the news channels across the country, and Danny becomes the whipping boy for the massacre. More specifically, he becomes the "Laughin' Boy."

Please note that this is no spoiler; all this is revealed in the first two pages of the book. Denton got his start as a writer of horror and dark fantasy/SF, so it's no surprise that the story starts with a visceral image such as this one. He doesn't leave the story there, though; he reveals that Danny had some sort of psychological shift take place in response to the massacre, and now anything sad, dreary, depressing, or frightening makes him laugh, and if he sees anything funny, he remains stoic. It's an interesting idea, and one that is parallelled in the Racist Ranger (an FBI agent who speaks in an insulting, Huckleberry Finn-era black dialect, but without trying to) and Porno Girl (a virgin attorney who must watch extreme pornography to remain emotionally stable, even though the depictions don't interest her, sexually). These three characters become the central focus of the novel, though the point of view never really shifts from Danny.

So, how does all this tie in with a satirical novel about the news media? Well, Danny takes center stage as the focus for the massacre, and his reaction to it overshadows the message that the assailants meant to send by the massacre, so they are largely ignored. Also, the story is told in an epistolary way, but instead of letters, it's written in e-mails, soundbites, radio transcripts, interviews, web chats, and the like. It's impossible to remove the media from the novel's events, because the entire thing is told through the media. It's a jab, for sure, and the premise is so dark that you can hear Denton saying, "Hey, don't you feel bad for being so interested in all this real-life drama?"

The novel will likely not get a huge following, because of both its dark premise, and because it's published in a limited edition by a small press (Subterranean Press), but that's a real shame. This is probably his best, most gripping work, and for those of us who can get through the first few pages of it, we'll receive quite a reward.
 
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Jesse Miller
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oooooh, when did this come out? I love love love Denton, and I hadn't heard a word of it untill now.
 
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It looks like it was released in July of this year:

http://tinyurl.com/74hct

Get it quick! It's a limited edition, so it's not likely to be around for TOO too long.
 
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