Funny People: Alix Ohlin

I think there’s a worry that if it’s funny then perhaps there’s something slight about it. That it’s not as important as a deeply researched, earnest, historical novel, or a kind of humorless tale of contemporary life. I think there possibly was a moment in the ‘60s and ‘70s when the serious books tended to be pretty funny. I don’t know if that’s as true these days.

I came across this quote, pulled from a Black Book interview with the author Sam Lipsyte, on the Elegant Variation a couple of weeks back, and I’ve been meaning to respond to it in some depth, because it surprised me that Lipsyte would speak of humor as a second class citizen in the literary world. To me, it seems that literary fiction, at least since George Saunders inspired a thousand stories set in an economically underperforming amusement park, has been more comic than straight.

Am I wrong? And if I am, can we at least agree never to write a story in an amusement park again? I don’t care if you’re writing about a grandmother dying of cancer in a bar, I’ll consider it so long as the bar’s not inside an amusement park. Am I the only one who’s noticed this trend?

Anyways, however much I’d like to create an index of writers who use humor (the best of whom, yes, of course, are deadly serious) I’m afraid I’ll just have to mention one today: Alix Ohlin. I’d seen the name before, can’t remember where or how, but it was only today that I read something of hers, the story Stranger Things Have Happened.

Such a wonderful voice, full of humor and sadness, and all the scope and range of an Alice Munro story — a novel, really — with the voice of its vaguely omniscient narrator at a slight remove and somehow benevolent.

Good, good stuff. Like the movie Funny People, which I just saw.

Now back to work on my amusement park novel.

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