If you enjoy humorous fiction as much as I do, there are three authors that rank at the top of my list of recommendations: Christopher Moore, Jonathan Tropper and Michael Malone. Dave Barry and Carl Hiaassen are up there too but Moore, Tropper and Malone are my favorites. At least at the moment.
Christopher Moore is an outrageous author with the imagination of a mad man, who writes about aliens, demons, angles, and vampires to name a few of his themes. His first novel Practical Demonkeeping is a wonderful romp following Travis O’Hearn, who has been saddled with a demon in return for eternal youth. Catch, the demon, is only visible to others when it is feeding, and Catch has a taste for human flesh. Travis has tired of endless youth and his hungry companion and is seeking a way to return the beast to flames of Hell. The story, set in Pine Cove, CA, is populated with a rich cast of small town characters and this novel is similar to some of the work of A. Lee Martinez.
My favorite book by Moore is Lamb, the Gospel According to Bif, Christ’s Childhood Pal. The proper gospels in the Bible give us glimpse of Christ as an infant born in a manger, and as a grown man spreading the word of God until his crucifixion at age 30. But there is no account for what happens to him during the intervening years between boyhood and adulthood. This is Moore’s attempt to explain what the teenage Christ and his life-long pal Bif experience on a journey that ultimately prepares Him for His role as the Messiah. Some may find the frat-boy humor a little blasphemous, but it is interesting to think of Jesus (or Joshua in Moore’s tale) as a boy growing up and wrestling with the enormity of being the Son of God. While much of the book is conceived out of Moore’s fertile and outrageous imagination, the last days of Christ’s life are poignantly, and tenderly rendered, accurately tracking the Bible’s account of the Passion of Christ. Another warning is that if you are easily embarrassed about laughing out loud in public places, then read this book at home. It is a VERY funny book.
Jonathan Tropper is a gifted and perceptive writer who has his finger firmly on the pulse of the dysfunctional family. He also has a perfect understanding of the heart, and mind of the American male. Tropper has written five books and I promptly read all of them. His most current effort is by far his best effort. This is Where I Leave You, brings the members of a family together in response to the last dying wish of the Foxman family’s patriarch: to sit shiva. This forces the clan to reluctantly come together under the same roof for seven hilarious days. At the same time Judd Foxman, the main character of the book, is suffering from a painful and humiliatingly public separation stemming from his wife’s affair with Judd’s boss. And when Judd thinks nothing could get more complicated, he finds out his wife is pregnant. As the book jacket says, it is “a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind-whether we like it or not.”
Other Tropper must-reads include How to Talk to a Widower, and Everything Changes. Widower is about how Doug Parker who lost a wife he adored in plane crash becomes responsible for Russ, his 16-year-old stepson. Russ is basically a good kid but is quickly sliding down the slippery slope of trouble and Doug is fighting to pull him back up. This is a finely crafted story of a grieving man thrust into the role of parent. It is at turns heartwarming and hilarious. If you can’t get your hands on This is Where I Leave You, then, pick up How to talk to a Widower which comes in at a close second.
Everything Changes is a portrait of Zack King, a man who seems to have it all but doesn’t want what he has. He is engaged to a beautiful and intelligent woman, he’s gainfully employed pulling down a generous salary, and lives rent free in a Manhattan apartment with an independently wealthy chum. But as the wedding looms Zack is getting cold feet and his feelings increasingly turn towards another woman, the widow of his best friend killed in a car crash two years earlier. And then there is Norm, Zack’s estranged father who resurfaces after 20 years to throw a monkey wrench into the works. This is a smartly written, funny and moving book by a master of dysfunction.
Michael Malone is the author of my all-time favorite book called Handling Sin. I have read it at least four times. My wife, my son, and my mother-in-law all devoured this book and we have all unanimously declared it one of the funniest books ever read, and I literally mean laugh out loud funny.
Raleigh Hayes of Thermopylae, NC, is a respectable, no nonsense life insurance agent. He is used to the comfortable day in, day out routine that affords him the financial support of his family and home without any surprises. That is until his father, hospitalized for a heart condition, checks himself out of the hospital, buys a yellow Cadillac convertible, withdraws his life savings from the bank and is last seen driving off in the company of young black girl a quarter of his age. Raleigh’s father sends a laundry list of bizarre demands that must be fulfill before meeting his father in New Orleans in two weeks time if he wants to get the old man back in the hospital or have a hope of receiving any inheritance.
What ensues an uproarious road trip filled with unforgettable characters and situations. Raleigh, an ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances and joined by his obese and well-meaning but dimwitted neighbor, an escaped convict, and his drug-smuggling half brother. Raleigh also has run-ins with the KKK, gangsters, and the FBI. He breaks into and robs a library, poses as a fictitious movie director and is involved in a duel. Handling Sin has been likened to a Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, but I cannot speak to that comparison as I have not read the latter. But I have read the former—several times—and can personally recommend it. Out of five stars, I give it six.
Happy reading. Stock up on ibuprofen, because I predict that your stomach muscles will be sore from laughing.