cover image Laughin' Boy

Laughin' Boy

Bradley Denton, . . Subterranean, $40 (280pp) ISBN 978-1-59606-016-6

When a videotape catches meek college teacher Danny Clayton uncontrollably laughing after a terrorist massacre in Denton's provocative new novel, Danny becomes a reviled celebrity: Laughin' Boy. It seems only natural that he join with the similarly loathed Porno Girl and the Racist Ranger to form the Odd Squad, the superheroes people love to hate. Their fame does, however, mean that the murderous terrorists are ignored, frustrating their desire for notoriety and motivating them to do whatever's necessary to reclaim center stage. Pop psychologists, the FBI and TV producers are also circling like vultures. Meanwhile, Danny tries to discover, more or less unaided, why he's laughing and how he can stop. If he can save himself, maybe he can help his equally unhappy cohorts escape their compulsions. Denton's ear for the cacophony of talk radio, chatrooms and political interviews is flawless. He also has a good eye for the painful absurdities of a world bloated with information but starved for understanding. Like his mentor Mark Twain, Denton (Lunatics ) has trouble resolving the characters' dilemmas believably; still, he sets up the problem memorably. Agent, Matt Bialer . (June 27)