Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Review: "The Laughing Monsters" by Denis Johnson
Denis Johnson, much like Don DeLillo, is a writer I come back to even though they have not produced anything that I would call a masterpiece. I enjoy his books quite bit: they are stylistically rich and have enough bravado to make certain aspects funny, but not enough to be unforgivably annoying. He sort of exists on the outskirts of literature, or did until the mammoth Tree of Smoke won the National Book Award, and has always been a little underrated (although I tend to discount authors of this description once they win one of the big four of American literary awards). He has produced some good work, with his first novel Angles, easily being his best and least talked about work, and all the others are passable. But his most recent effort, The Laughing Monsters, just by default, has got to be his worst. It concerns two men who are over the hill in experience even though they are a few years off in age. Roland Nair, a man who drifts in and out of secretive government operations, finds himself in the country of Sierra Leone to meet up with his friend, the mysterious and unhinged Michael Adriko. Michael, with a new fiancé, indulges the whims of Roland, whose reasons for coming back to a country that made him money are left vague. A trip to Uganda to meet Michael’s tribe leads all three into the wilderness and to a tribe that is eating itself alive. Like most of Johnson’s stories, it is filled with a sort of tough guy/hipster grit, which works in some instances, such as Angels, but for here, it seems tawdry and even, for the most part boring, with the second half, which was supposed to be more interesting, doesn’t live up to the introductions. I will still read more of Denis Johnson, going backward instead of forward in his bibliography, but this is far from his best, which, coming from me, isn’t saying much.