BASS 2010: “The Laugh” by Tea Obreht

I didn’t so much read this story as wrestle it to the ground, so my enjoyment level wasn’t as high as it could have been. I had a hard time with the opening paragraphs, figuring out who was who, and it wasn’t until several pages in that I realized that Femi was not a child. That happens sometimes, and I’m inclined to think it has more to do with my mindset at the time than with the complexity of the story.

Because this story, once I got it into a full nelson, isn’t all that complex. Roland, freshly widowed, and friend Neal. Who knew what, when? Who did what on purpose, and what was just coincidence? It takes some doing to unravel the details – wildebeests, hyenas, (the story is set in Africa), hot-air balloons, unloaded rifles. It’s quite beautiful, actually, dark and heavy and slow (I don’t mean that as a criticism, those are all appropriate for the story), hot and smelly, returning to the hot-air balloon a few times before we find out, almost at the end, its significance, and the significance of the title.

You can read the story at the Atlantic where it was first published, as well as an interview with the astonishingly young (24 at the time it was published) and unfairly beautiful (ok, yes, I am being petty, but really, would it be too much to ask to spread the gifts around a little more evenly?) author, who arrived at Cornell at the age of 12 via Yugoslavia and Egypt.

2 responses to “BASS 2010: “The Laugh” by Tea Obreht

  1. I found myself puzzled by this story. I wasn”t sure why the beginning made it so hard to orient to who was who and what was what. The use of the balloon also felt kind of manipulative. We never know much of anything about Fermi.
    The imagery was striking, but I felt like the balloon, up in the air and not quite sure where I was headed.

    • That’s really good, feeling like the balloon – I don’t mean it’s good you felt that way, but it’s a great way to describe it. I, on the other hand, got weighted down by the heat and depression.

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