After reading a particularly deep, thematically intense fantasy novel (in this case, N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms), I sometimes like to cleanse my palate with a little comedic literary irreverence. I must admit though, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, I used to stay away from most humorous fantasy – I either found it not funny at all or bordering on offensive.
When Road Trip of the Living Dead was released in 2009, Mark visited the BarnesandNoble.com Paranormal & Urban Fantasy forum to talk about his book, parts of which riled up a few readers – myself included.
At the time, I was still struggling with the death of my mother, who had recently passed away after a short battle with cancer, and one particular line in the novel really got to me. I shared my feelings with Mark:
“I understand that much of the appeal of these novels is the irreverence but I think at times [the humor] crosses the line and could seem to be offensive to some readers. There were numerous references in Road Trip of the Living Dead that – even to me – seemed insensitive. Page 7, for example: it's implied that because Amanda's mother was not a nice person she somehow brought cancer on herself. ("Now, tell me she didn't buy herself some cancer on that day.") My mother recently passed away from cancer and I have a close friend courageously battling cancer right now and reading that line was like someone stabbing me in the heart…”
To which Mark eloquently replied:
This discussion certainly brings up a topic I give a lot of thought to and that's crossing the boundaries of good taste, or even pushing past bad taste into filth. I'm not referring to porn here, but the type of lewd comedy that Bruce pulled off and John Waters commemorates to film so well. Waters once said, ‘the best filth is accidental.’ It's also very real. True enough, a lot of the commentary and asides that cross the line in both Road Trip and Happy Hour (for there are many more than Paul mentions – in fact, enough to offend everyone, if they get around to reading it) are not statements I commiserated over, they come from a dark place of cynicism and self-protection.
Mark’s comments were insightful ones but it’s something a reader posted that changed the way I look at “crass” humor in literature forever.
She wrote: “I wanted to respond to the whole cancer thing… You see I have stomach cancer! No I didn't go ‘aiyeeeee what the hell is wrong with this guy?’ when I read about Ethel. I found the outcome quite empowering! Cancer for me is a fact of life – not something I shrink back from but something I do deal with on a daily basis. I think that the actual cancer sufferers will laugh at the whole issue – it's the caregivers that get all squicky. We deal 24/7 and need the laughs. Remember healing comes from laughter and not taking things so seriously. Laughter is truly the best medicine…”
That statement really had a profound affect on me – it was revelatory – and I realized how reading a story powered by humor that pushes the envelope could be an incredibly cathartic experience. That reader was so right – laughter sometimes is the best medicine.
Yeah, I know. This kind of fantasy isn’t for everyone. But if your mundane existence has got you down and you need a laugh – and you’re not easily offended! – I would suggest seeking out and sampling some of the aforementioned titles.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.