#bookaday (13): Makes me laugh

Dan Rhodes’s Anthropology. Never mind the Oulipean formal constraints (one hundred and one stories, each one hundred and one words), what really makes these stories of unhappy love affairs and bereavement hilarious is the deadpan tone with which Rhodes delivers bizarre scenarios. The girlfriend of the titular story ends up dressed as a 1970s Village-People-style gay man while tending goats in Mongolia. ‘Innocence’ ends with a parrot spouting obscenities at a wedding. Every girlfriend has a new name, but the narrator scarcely distinguishes one from another, and he understands them in the most superficial way; ‘pretty’ and ‘lovely’ are the most telling epithets he can summon. Celestia, Tabitha, Lulula, Paris, Foxglove, Zazie: the names change, but the scenarios repeat themselves. Two consecutive stories begin ‘My girlfriend left me’; many times his girlfriend dies. Each story is self-contained, and the narrator never acknowledges the repetitions, ever notices the absurdity of it all, and never learns.

There’s an underlying sadness about them too, one that’s always just hidden behind the deadpan, and, these being highly compressed pieces, the tone can turn in an instance. No sooner have you laughed at the parrot’s obscenity than you reach the final phrase, ‘I knew that the marriage was over.’ And there’s a strange pathos in the narrator’s impercipience and cheerful persistence.



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