From Electric Lit:
Dark humor. Wry, mordant. Frame it however you want—yin and yang, chiaroscuro, tragedy and comedy—nothing is more life-affirming, nothing makes me feel more connected to humanity, more humbled by the resiliency of the human spirit, than a person’s ability to crack a joke at a low point.
The women and girls in my collection, Love Like That, are all screwing up: they’re in the wrong jobs, in the wrong dress, the wrong shoes. They’re on the wrong vacation. They’ve made the wrong plans, the wrong friends, the wrong move. They’ve said the wrong thing. They’re with the wrong men. But they possess, I think, the self-awareness to understand this, and it’s at this intersection of self-awareness and pain where a certain kind of humor is born. For me, there is nothing more generous than the gift of someone else’s messiness laid bare, of someone else’s vulnerability and frankness, especially about themselves. And what better terrain for rawness and honesty, for the simple admission that life can be really fucking absurd, than relationships?
Here are a few books that break up the dark with some light, whose characters make me laugh and wince with recognition.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The book is essentially a novel in novellas, each dedicated to a member of the Lambert family—Alfred and Enid and their adult children, Chip, Gary, and Denise. While the whole thing is, I think, a masterpiece—darkly, darkly funny—the one that really kills me is about Gary. It’s the roller coaster of domesticity at its best:
“To feel nothing, not the feeblest pulse in the dead mouse from which his urine issued, for three weeks, to believe that she would never again need him and that he would never again want her, and then, on a moment’s notice, to become light-headed with lust: this was marriage as he knew it.”
. . . .
The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler is a master of the dark/light thing. The backdrop of this novel is deeply sad—Macon Leary’s young son has been killed in a robbery, and in the opening pages his wife asks for a divorce—but a warm, humorous quirkiness soon fills the pages of the book, whether it’s Macon’s adult siblings, who organize their pantry alphabetically, or Muriel Pritchett, the eccentric dog-trainer he falls in love with. One of my favorite scenes is early in the book when Macon, reeling from his recent separation, devises a ridiculous housework system:
“What he did was strip the mattress of all linens, replacing them with a giant sort of envelope made from one of the seven sheets he had folded and stitched together on the sewing machine…At moments—while he was skidding on the mangled clothes in the bathtub or struggling into his body bag on the naked, rust-stained mattress—he realized that he might be carrying things too far. He couldn’t explain why, either.”
Link to the rest at Electric Lit