Humor, like beauty, is in the eye, or mind, of the beholder, and satire can be particularly tricky when it comes to defining what is funny versus what is stinging.
Because of this subjectivity and complexity, today’s satirical
fiction, influenced by Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, and Kurt
Vonnegut, remains robustly provoking and enticingly varied
in voice and form. Sharply comedic, corrosively subversive,
quietly droll, rambunctiously antic, darkly hilarious, and richly
tragicomic, contemporary satires range in scope from the po-
litical to the intimately psychological.
These novels and short story collections will elicit outright
laughter from some readers and measured amusement
from others as well as eye-rolling dismay, bemused outrage,
cynical smirking, piquant pleasure, ironic appreciation, and
cathartic compassion. At the very least, we hope that these
satirical tales will amuse and intrigue fiction lovers willing to
stoke their senses of humor.
Pictured from left: Christopher Buckley, Colson Whitehead, Bharati Mukherjee, Junot Diaz, Tom Wolfe
Photos credited to Harry Cabluck, Erin Patrice O’Brien, Chip Cooper, Nina Subin, and Hachette Book Group
Apex Hides the Hurt. By Colson
Whitehead. 2006. Anchor, $15
In Whitehead’s playfully incisive satire
about American commercialism, a naming consultant who remains nameless
is hired by a small town determined to
rename itself, and he finds himself pulled
into the battle between old (barbed
wire) and new (software) money and the
town’s mayor, who traces her roots to the
founders, a group of freed slaves.
Back to Blood. By Tom Wolfe. 2012.
Little, Brown, $18 (9780316036337).
Impish satirist Wolfe eviscerates Miami
in a bawdy, sardonic, and rollicking tale of
slapstick action, decadent elites, and the
struggles of two young Cuban Americans,
a cop and a nurse.
Blasphemy. By Sherman Alexie. 2012.
Grove, $17 (9780802121752).
Alexie has assembled a mischievously and
mordantly comic, scathingly forthright,
and caring collection of comfort-zone-
This survey of contemporary
satirical fiction reveals that
today’s practitioners of the
stinging art can mix barbs and
belly laughs as adroitly as their
BY DONNA SEAMAN