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Book Review: The Laughter of Strangers

It’s true that Michael J. Seidlinger’s new novel The Laughter of Strangers has something to do with boxing. However, to say that it’s a book about boxing is a lot like saying My Pet Serial Killer is a book about serial killers. Boxing is a big part of The Laughter of Strangers. Serial killers figure heavily into My Pet Serial Killer. But if you’ve read My Pet Serial Killer, or indeed, if you’ve been lucky enough to come across anything Seidlinger has put out, you know that cutting a description of his stories down to a single sentence just isn’t going to work.

The reason why Seidlinger has the capacity as a writer to set his story however/wherever he pleases is because of his extraordinary talent for describing the human mind. The characters in his work are believable on the surface, and this gives him free reign to be as weird or downright terrifying in describing what’s going on beneath the surface as he wants to be. The Laughter of Strangers continues this trend.

You don’t have to be a fan of boxing to appreciate the descent of professional boxer “Sugar” Willem Floures into one of the most harrowing, intricate depictions of madness (and madness probably isn’t even the most accurate word to describe what Floures’ is going through, but rather it’s just the best one most of us can think of offhand). Knowing about the sport, understanding the potential mindset of someone who has relied upon their body for far too long can give you a measure of insight right from the beginning. Seidlinger doesn’t demand you know about boxing. Because even though this story is very much about a boxer who comes to grips with the decline of his body and mind by constructing and then confronting multiple versions of himself, it’s not necessarily a boxing story. What The Laughter of Strangers depicts is another commentary by Seidlinger on destruction.

In the past, Seidlinger’s talent has covered destruction of the mind, destruction of social constructs, and the destruction of society itself on every possible level. That doesn’t mean that he’s ever repeated himself. The pleasure of reading The Laughter of Strangers, for all its frightening moments, for all the parts that make us laugh (a little uncomfortably), and for everything that stays with us after the book is done, is in how Seidlinger describes that destruction. It’s clearly an interest of his, but it’s not an interest that sacrifices story or character. It’s not an interest that has revealed any limitations at this time. You don’t have to be a fighter to relate to what Floures goes through over the course of the book. You only have to remember the time you struggled with your own sense of identity. If you happen to be going through that struggle now, then that’s all the better, in terms of your ability to take something significant from The Laughter of Strangers.

Relatability is one thing, and it’s fascinating how Michael J. Seidlinger lets us do that throughout his latest novel, but that’s not the only thing available here. The heart of The Laughter of Strangers is that Seidlinger is one of the best novelists out there right now. His novels tend to lean towards being compulsory, phenomenal reading. They are a nonstop blend of expert storytelling, fully-realized characters, and prose that creates the image of a deteriorating mind, without causing the prose to get lost in its own power. The Laughter of Strangers is intensely focused on telling its story in the best way possible. The resolve to do this never lets up for a second. Everything builds up to the most devastating climax that Seidlinger has written thus far.

The Laughter of Strangers is now available from Lazy Fascist Press. Click here to buy it on Amazon.