Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Laurie Gold’s Favorite Comic Novel(s)

By Laurie Gold

Critical Mass readers will know we are now in our fourth year of “NBCC Reads.” This survey allows us to draw on the bookish expertise of our membership, along with former NBCC winners and finalists. This spring's question: What's your favorite comic novel? was inspired by this past year's awards in fiction– NBCC fiction award winner Jennifer Egan's at-times hilarious “A Visit from the Goon Squad” (which also won this year's Pulitzer and the Los Angeles Times book award in fiction) and Irish writer Paul Murray's darkly comic “Skippy Dies,” an NBCC fiction finalist. We heard from more than 100 of you (thanks!). We do not tabulate votes or rank the titles under discussion. Instead, we simply give an idea of the authors or particular titles that seem to be tickling out collective fancy. The first of the series, and the most noted comic novel of the lot, was Joseph Heller's Catch-22, first published in 1961. (We're including worthy second choices, as well.) Other favorites so far:  Vladimir Nabokov, Evelyn Waugh, Richard Russo's “Straight Man,” Kingsley Amis's “Lucky Jim,” two by Flann O'Brien,  “Oldies but Goodies” like Henry Fielding's “Tom Jones” and Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice,” plus Charles Portis. Today's posting is one of our “Long Tail” entries.

My favorite comic novels were written by Christopher Moore. Most people seem to adore “Lamb”, but my favorite by him is actually “A Dirty Job”. I wrote about both books for a piece on a new blog I'm writing for.

“Lamb”: The sub-title for this absurdist novel is “The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.” Here’s how the book begins: “The first time I saw the man who would save the world he was sitting near the central well in Nazareth with a lizard hanging out of his mouth.” The narrator, six-year-old Biff, watched another local boy of the same age remove said lizard from his mouth, then pass it to his younger brother, who teased it for awhile before bashing its head in and giving it back to the older brother, who brought it back to life by putting it into his mouth. Biff watches this scene repeat itself three times before telling the older brother he wanted in on it. “The Savior removed the lizard from his mouth and said, 'Which part?’” And it just gets better from there.

“A Dirty Job:” The book begins when a man takes his wife, in labor, to the hospital. She dies. Hilarity ensues. Truly. I kid you not.

Also, Jonathan Tropper's “How to Talk to a Widower”: Devastatingly profane, laugh-out-loud funny, yet surprisingly emotional. And if genre fiction is acceptable…Gail Carriger's “Soulless,” a Victorian comedy of manners with monsters. (It's Steampunk.)

Laurie Gold is a PW reviewer, Heroes & Heartbreakers blogger, former B&N bookseller,