Hard Laughter

( 2 )

Overview

Anne Lamott's poignant first novel, reissued in an attractive new edition.

Writer (and sometime housecleaner) Jennifer is twenty-three when her beloved father, Wallace, is diagnosed with a brain tumor. This catastrophic discovery sets off Anne Lamott's unexpectedly sweet and funny first novel, which is made dramatic not so much by Wallace's illness as by the emotional wake it sweeps under Jen and her brothers, self-contained Ben and feckless, lovable Randy. With characteristic ...

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Overview

Anne Lamott's poignant first novel, reissued in an attractive new edition.

Writer (and sometime housecleaner) Jennifer is twenty-three when her beloved father, Wallace, is diagnosed with a brain tumor. This catastrophic discovery sets off Anne Lamott's unexpectedly sweet and funny first novel, which is made dramatic not so much by Wallace's illness as by the emotional wake it sweeps under Jen and her brothers, self-contained Ben and feckless, lovable Randy. With characteristic affection and accuracy, Lamott sketches this offbeat family and their nearest and dearest as they draw ever closer in the intimacy Jen prizes "among the other estimable things: good music, good hard laughter, good sex, good industry, and good books."

The author's first novel is set in a small Northern California town of trust-fund radicals, dream consultants, and average folks named Aurora, Zapata, and Karma.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The appeal of this book is . . . that it has much to say about how a good family works . . . in times both hard and easy . . . It's a moving and strangely joyful book, a kind of celebration, and it's written with an assurance far beyond the reach of most first novelists."—Anne Tyler, The New York Times Book Review

"If love is details, so is storytelling, and Anne Lamott excels at it. Her way with analogy, metaphor, and evocative detail is subtle; her ability to shift from the specific to the general to the specific again, superb."—Suzanne Mantell, The Nation

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865472808
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/15/1979
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 775,047
  • Product dimensions: 5.53 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is the author of five novels and two works of nonfiction, Operating Instructions and Bird by Bird. She lives in Northern California.

Biography

Anne Lamott's recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse helped her career in two ways. First, it marked an artistic rebound for the novelist; second, she's become an inspirational figure to fans who have read her frank, funny nonfiction books covering topics from motherhood to religion to, yes, fighting for sobriety.

Early on, Lamott's hard-luck novels were impressive chronicles of family strife punctuated by bad (but often entertaining) behavior. Everyone in Lamott's books is sort of screwed up, but she stocks them with a humor and core decency that make them hard to resist. In Hard Laughter, she tells the (semi-autobiographical) story of a dysfunctional family rocked by the father's brain tumor diagnosis. In Rosie and its 1997 sequel, Crooked Little Heart, the heroines are a sassy teenage girl and her alcoholic, widowed mom. Another precocious child provides the point of view in All New People, in which a girl rides out the waves of the 1960s with her nutty parents.

Lamott's conversational, direct style and cynical humor have always been strengths, and with All New People -- the first book she wrote after getting sober -- she turned a corner. Reedeming herself from the disastrous reviews of her messy (too much so, even for the endearingly messy Lamott) 1985 third novel Joe Jones, Lamott's talent came back into focus. "Anne Lamott is a cause for celebrations," the New Yorker effused. "[Her] real genius lies in capturing the ineffable, describing not perfect moments, but imperfect ones...perfectly. She is nothing short of miraculous."

That said, Lamott's sensibility is not for everyone. The faith, both human and spiritual, in her books is accompanied by her unsparing irony and a distinct disregard for wholesomeness or conventionality; and God here is for sinners as much as (if not more than) for saints. Her girls are often not girls but half-adults; her adults, vice-versa. She finds the adolescent, weak spots in all her characters, making them people to root for at the same time.

Among Lamott's most messy, troubled characters is the author herself, and she began turning this to her advantage with the 1993 memoir Operating Instructions, a single mom's meditation on the big experiment -- failures included -- of new parenthood. It was also in this book that Lamott "came out of the closet" with her Christianity, and earned a whole new following that grew with her subsequent memoirs, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Traveling Mercies. However gifted Lamott was at conveying fictional stories, it was in telling her own stories that her self-deprecating humor and hard-earned wisdom really made themselves known, and loved by readers.

Good To Know

Lamott's Joe Jones, which is now out of print, was so poorly received that it sent the alcoholic Lamott into a tailspin. "When Joe Jones came out I really got trashed," she told the New York Times in 1997. "I got 27 bad reviews. It was kind of exhilarating in its way. I was still drinking and I woke up every morning feeling so sick, I literally felt I was pinned to the bed by centrifugal force. I wouldn't have very many memories of what had happened the night before. I'd have to call around, and I could tell by people's reaction whether I'd pulled it off or not. I was really humiliating myself. It was bad."

Lamott's father was a writer who instilled the belief in her that it was a privilege in life to be an artist, as opposed to having a regular job. But she stresses to students that it doesn't happen overnight; that the work has to be measured in small steps, with continual efforts to improve. She said in an NPR interivew, "I've published six books and I still worry that the phone is going to ring and [someone] is going to say, 'Okay, the jig is up, you have to get a job..."'

In an essay accompanying Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Lamott described her decision to begin writing in earnest about Christianity: "Thirteen years ago, I first lurched -- very hung over -- into a little church in one of the poorest communities in California. Without this church, I do not think I would have survived the last few years of my drinking. But even so, I had written about the people there only in passing. I did, however, speak about the church whenever I could, sheepishly shoehorning in a story or two. But it wasn't really until my fifth book [Operating Instructions], that I came out of the closet as a real believer.... I started to realize that there was a great hunger and thirst for regular, cynical, ragbag people to talk about God..."

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    1. Hometown:
      Fairfax, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      San Francisco, California
    1. Education:
      Attended Goucher College in Maryland before dropping out to write

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 10, 2014

    I love reading Anne Lamott's works. This book is not my favorite

    I love reading Anne Lamott's works. This book is not my favorite; maybe it's the subject matter. It's hard to laugh when times are tough; and that is the point of this book. Having someone close to you with the diagnosis of cancer is difficult; how to stay positive and to live life to the fullest, and yet be sensitive to the "icky" stuff, and acutely aware of a possible pending death sentence sooner than later.

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  • Posted June 23, 2014

    I read another book by this author and really liked it, so when

    I read another book by this author and really liked it, so when I saw this book at a tag sale, I snatched it up. Sadly, this one just doesn't seem to hold my attention. The narrator in the story is just too messed up and I while I get the general idea that she and her two brothers are working through their fears and grief for their father with laughter and jokes, I just keep wanting to shake this woman and tell her to grow up. She constantly peppers her narrative with mini stories about all sorts of odd people that live in her town and who appear to be burned out on drugs and alcohol. For that matter, there is no explanation as to how this woman is able to own or rent a cabin, keep her home stocked with alcohol and weed, and apparently pay her bills on $16 a week. None of it makes sense. I just cannot identify with this character. This is one of Ann Lamott's earlier works, so I think she has gotten a lot better over time. 

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