It’s possible that I’m reading The Klone and I all wrong, but I prefer to think Danielle Steel decided she couldn’t write another syrupy romance and decided to spoof the whole business. At any rate, her Klone is one of the funniest novels I’ve read in a long time.
The story is related by a woman named Stephanie whose husband tells her in the 13th year of their marriage that he wants out. She gets the kids, ages eight and 13. Roger gets alimony and quickly remarries.
Stephanie meets a lot of losers before she meets Peter Baker, an attractive divorce who runs a bionics company. Bionics is not a term Stephanie recognizes.
They slip into a relationship, though Stephanie’s kids think Peter is dull.
When Peter has to go to California on business, he promises her a surprise. The surprise is Paul Klone, a partially-cloned, partially bionic figure—read that as life-size sex doll—that looks exactly like Peter, only much, much flashier.
Stephanie’s kids think Paul is great.
And Steel gives him great lines like, “I love you Steph . . . you make my wires hurt,” and his whine, “In a few hours, I’ll have my head off again, and all my wires hanging out, and you’ll be back with [Peter].”
James Finn Garner rewrote 13 classic fairy tales to replace any language that would offend the sensibilities of “Politically Correct” 1990s readers with language that will make ordinary folks laugh out loud.
Thus in Politically Correct Bedtime Stories:
Little Red Riding Hood becomes “a young person.”
The Emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is not naked but merely “endorsing a clothing-optional lifestyle.”
The Little in Chicken Little’s name is a family name rather than a “size-based nickname,” and
Cinderella is put on the road to romance by an individual calling himself her “fairy godperson, or individual deity proxy.”
Garner’s long-distance nod to the historic origins of the tales is marked by a decorative capital letter, drawn by Lisa Amoroso to illustrate the story, and placed as the first letter of each story in the best tradition of early manuscripts.
Despite its extremely short length—79 pages—Politically Correct Bedtime Stories is not a work to be read in one sitting. To appreciate Garner’s humor, without being overwhelmed by the silliness, it’s best to read the stories one a night for 13 nights before bedtime.
Garner’s book was a flash-in-a-pan bestseller, ideally suited to the time in which it first appeared, but almost lusterless today when people seem unable to laugh at absurdities uttered by public figures.
Leaving Home is a collection of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion monologues about Lake Wobegon, the little town on the edge of the Minnesota prairie “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
Leaving Home doesn’t make any attempt at a plot. It’s simply a collection of literary oddments.
The chapters are short, usually three to five pages, often funny, and vibrating with the ring of oral stories about small town people from mid-century mid-America.
People who grew up in any rural community in America after World War II will recognize the traits that Keillor alternately mocks and lauds.
These are church-going people, with or without personal faith, but with a strong commitment to what their church represents.
They aren’t rich or famous. Some are comfortable, others not so much.
All of them wonder what the world is coming to.
The book will bring joy to fans of Keillor’s down-home style of yarn-spinning.
Leaving Home should also have a strong attraction for depressed 21st century readers wondering what the world is coming to, and yearning for models of how to live among those with whom you disagree without being disagreeable.
As he did in Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut begins Slapstick: or Lonesome No More with a personal reference.
Vonnegut tells of flying with his brother to their uncle’s funeral and missing their sister who died from cancer two days after her husband died in a accident, leaving four children to be brought up by family members.
That, and seeing a performance of Tosca, starts him imagining a novel in the spirit of Laurel and Hardy who “did their best with every test.”
Slapstick is a series of loosely connected episodes about Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, M.D., age 100, currently one of three inhabitants of the Empire State Building (most other residents of Manhattan have been killed by plague) and former president of the United States.
Swain won the Presidency with the slogan “Lonesome No More” and instituted a program in which Americans were assigned to families identifiable by middle names consisting of a noun and a number.
Vonnegut’s absurd characters are no more real than a Laurel and Hardy sketch, but realism is not his point.
His characters are parables, zany to get your attention and direct it to a message:
“Human beings need all the relatives they can get—as possible donors or receivers not necessarily of love, but of common decency.”
Three facts about Dan Jenkins’s 1972 bestseller Semi-Tough tell all you really need to know:
The novel is about two teams facing off in the Super Bowl.
The author was a senior editor at Sports Illustrated at the time he wrote the novel.
A portion of the novel appeared inPlayboy magazine prior to the book’s publication.
Semi-Tough‘s narrator is Billy Clyde Puckett, a running back (and running mouth) for the New York Giants.
His best pals are his teammate “Shake” Tiller and Shake’s girlfriend, model Barbara Jane Bookman. The three spent their childhood in the same Texas town. It would be incorrect to say they grew up there or anywhere else.
Billy Clyde has a book contract to keep a journal of events before and after the Super Bowl. That’s why he’s taking notes about players drinking and screwing in preparation for the Big Game.
Football fans say Semi-Tough is funny; personally, I’m just not that in to jokes about farting.
I did laugh at Shake’s philosophical observation, “There’s no heartbreak in life like losing the big game in high school,” but I don’t think he meant it to be funny.
Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins
Atheneum, 1972. 307 p.
1972 bestseller #10 My grade: C-
The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight is a comic novel about unfunny topics, such as murder, written by an angry man.
Author Jimmy Breslin, a brash New York Daily News columnist, invents a gang war between a Mafia don “Papa Baccala” and malcontents who want to get a bigger share of the proceeds: 100 percent is the figure they have in mind.
Instead of liquidating his opposition, Baccala decides to keep them quiet by letting them organize a six-day bike race and keep most of the money.
The opposition, led by Kid Sally Palumbo (Palumbo rhymes with Dumbo, get it?) are total incompetents.
Breslin makes fun of the incompetent crooks he invented, but beneath the sometimes ribald humor is a deep anger against competent political crooks and the intertwined police and justice systems that work against the innocent.
The film rights to Gang were sold before the book came out, which probably accounts for the novel’s sales: The novel is mostly a series of theatrical sight gags, funnier seen than read about.
The novel’s lasting contribution is undoubtedly its title: Referring to an organization as “a gang that can’t shoot straight” has become shorthand for systemic incompetence.
If you want to know why The Daughter of Anderson Crow was a bestseller, look at B. Martin Justice’s illustrations.
If you want to know what’s wrong with the novel, look at Justice’s illustrations.
The Daughter of Anderson Crow by George Barr McCutcheon
B. Martin Justice, illus. Dodd, Mead 1907. 1907 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg ebook #14818. My Grade: B-.
George Barr McCutcheon’s starts out writing a funny novel about Anderson Crow, Tinkletown marshal, fire chief, and street commissioner who is just smart enough to not let Tinkletown see how dumb he is.
That first part of the novel is illustrated with cartoonish line drawings as funny as McCutcheon’s text.
The second part of the story is about Rosalie Gray, who the Crows raised like a daughter after finding her in a basket on their doorstep one winter night.
Her parentage was a mystery that even self-proclaimed super-sleuth Anderson Crow couldn’t solve.
A note in the basket said the Crows would receive $1000 a year to raise the child.
No one around Tinkletown had that kind of money.
The illustrations for Rosalie’s life as a young woman are lush scenes, suited to the Gothic romance style McCutcheon adopts whenever he focuses on her.
Eventually McCutcheon gets Rosalie suitably married, and turns his attention back to Anderson Crow long enough to give readers one final laugh before the novel ends.