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Laughin' Boy
Bradley Denton
Subterranean Press, 300 pages

Laughin' Boy
Bradley Denton
Bradley Denton's other novels include Wrack and Roll (1986), Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede (1991), Blackburn (1993) and Lunatics (1996) along with the collections A Conflagration Artist (1994), The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians (1994) and One Day Closer to Death (1997).

Bradley Denton Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Lunatics

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mario Guslandi

The outcast and the freak have always been the object of deep interest and sympathy by Bradley Denton as previously shown in the serial killer saga of Blackburn (novel and related short stories) and in stories such as "The Conflagration Artist."

With "Laughin' Boy" (aka Danny Clayton) Denton creates one of his most accomplished characters, a sad, unlucky weirdo who typically finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong moment. Set in USA in the year 2000 -- the author seems particularly anxious to make it clear that the events take place before 2001 and its tragic September 11 -- the story starts with a shooting among a crowd attending an outdoor music festival in Wichita, Kansas.

While the terrorists responsible for the massacre remain initially undetected, the public attention is drawn to a young man who, unharmed, is accidentally videotaped by the camera of one of the dying victims and, right in the midst of the carnage, appears to be "laughing his ass off." Public indignation ensues and Laughin' Boy becomes the target of morbid and angry interest by the national media.

Soon, however, a couple of shrinks, taking the guy into their custody, explain during a TV show he's affected by a unique mental disorder which forces him to laugh when he's afraid, hurt or horrified. Other unmatched freaks under their professional care are "Porno Girl" -- actually a virgin young lady with a compulsion to watch pornographic material -- and "Racist Ranger" a FBI agent speaking as "a nigger from the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and who, much to the readers' dismay, will continue to do so throughout the novel. The stories of those three characters interact and merge in a complex plot that, obviously, I'm not going to reveal, where religious fanaticism, the media's idiocy, the difficulty of personal relationships and, most of all, the undercurrent of irrational violence which seems to taint a great portion of American history are masterly blended by the talent of a very fine writer.

Laughin' Boy grips the reader from the first paragraph and, albeit running a bit out of steam in the middle part of the story, contrives to demand the readers' undivided attention for 282 pages.

Denton smartly approaches the facts from different angles, now providing descriptions of video clips or talk shows, now apparently reporting "therapy transcripts," now reproducing the inane chatting of internet discussion groups. In terms of suspension of disbelief here and there Denton appears on the verge of losing it, but in the end, being such a competent writer, he always manages to make things credible.

Indeed the interviews with politicians and psychologists and the comments offered by talk show participants about the Wichita tragedy are real masterpieces of humour and realism. Which, once again, makes it hard to properly label Denton's fiction (fantastic realism, anyone?).

But great writers defy classification, don't they?

Copyright © 2005 by Mario Guslandi

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy, and is a long-time fan of dark fiction. His book reviews have appeared on a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, Necropsy, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.

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