Absurdist fiction intended for special breed of readers—January 4, 2008
According to author Elizabeth Goudge, “Most of the basic truths of life sound absurd at first hearing.”
So it goes with absurdist fiction. Frequently funny, absurdist fiction can be, well, just plain weird. Subcategories under “weird” could include satirical, fantasy-based, funny, comic, quirky, wacky. Often, somewhere in there beneath the bizarre plot twists that seemingly go nowhere, are a moral to the story or social or political or religious commentary. As library patron Barbra Sumpter succinctly put it, this form of fiction “borders on the ludicrous.”
Many times, in the online catalog, these books may contain the subject heading of “humorous fiction” or “fantasy fiction.” And, as Sumpter pointed out, there may be “certain elements of mystery or romance,” still, “it’s hard to pigeonhole the genre.”
But you know it when you read it. Take Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” for example, which was a hit from the day it was published in 1981. Is it science fiction, fantasy fiction, or comedy? Perhaps it’s just plain absurd.
Reading absurdist fiction will create not a little cognitive dissonance for those of us who prefer a straightforward mystery or romance. How do you reconcile humor, horror and drama, all wrapped up in a comedic vampire love story bow? Library patron Brian Daugherty seems to have done so by latching onto a favorite character, the Emperor, a homeless man in San Francisco whose two sidekicks have four legs each (they’re canines). The Emperor shows up in a series of Christopher Moore’s supernatural books, including “Bloodsucking Fiends,” “A Dirty Job,” and “You Suck: A Love Story.” He’s not the main character, but he apparently helps to anchor the illogical and twisted plots.
Daugherty defines this genre as “infectiously addictive.” Another of his favorite authors is Carl Hiaasen. Hiaasen has produced a wealth of crime novels set in Florida to help you escape to the world of the absurd. One such book is titled “Basket Case.” In it, journalist Jack Dagger, who has been relegated to writing obituaries, stumbles on a murder, and at some point in the story has to defend himself with a giant frozen lizard.
Library patron Larry Barnason highly recommends the Blanco County, Texas, series by Ben Rehder. He describes Rehder’s writing as “light and humorous.” Game warden John Marlin and two good-ol’-boy local yokels named Red and Billy Don comprise some of the characters that lead the reader down a rambunctious path of mystery and mayhem where, as Barnason puts it, “endings are about 180 degrees from what you expect.”
Two other possibilities for the reader whose self-defense of sanity is satirical humor come from British writers Japer Fforde and Terry Pratchett. Both offer alternative realities to our own: one an offbeat Britain of 1985 featuring Literary Detective Thursday Next, and the other, Discworld, a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which are in turn standing on the back of a giant turtle. Hmmm, which to choose?
There is a breed of readers out there who are perfectly suited to these books. Some of you just don’t know it yet. Why don’t you find out for yourself? Escape into the world of the absurd and use reading as self-defense of your sanity with these and other books from Hastings Public Library.