I picked up this 1953 comic novel of Peter DeVries after reading a writer whom I respect report that it is a work that literally makes him laugh out loud. This, to me, is an extremely high commendation, something I myself have only experienced with two works over 25 years of “serious” reading: Nabokov’s Pale Fire and (the winner by a mile) John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces. No other work has had this effect. And sadly, The Vale of Laughter failed to add its name to this rarified club. While the book is occasionally amusing, much of the humor seems forced, and some of it positively groan-inducing. While DeVries seems to be aiming at a lighter, more absurdist version of Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), Roth’s work is significant more interesting—and funnier. I read through this book quickly, for fear of wasting too much of my valuable reading time on a novel that is not within the top 1000 ever written.
Vales of Laughter? Not so much.
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