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The Seven Funniest Novels of 2013

Greg Zimmerman

Staff Writer

Greg Zimmerman blogs about contemporary literary fiction at The New Dork Review of Books and holds down a full-time gig as a trade magazine editor. Follow him on Twitter: @NewDorkReview.

Need some cheer? These seven funniest novels of 2013 (listed in no particular order) are sure to give you a hearty holiday chuckle.

woke up lonelyWoke Up Lonely, Fiona Maazel — You wouldn’t expect a story about loneliness to be friggin’ hilarious, but here we are. In this novel, we have a cult called the Helix dedicated to alleviating loneliness, a trip to North Korea that includes a kind of goofy meeting with Kim Jong-Il, and a city of vice underneath Cincinnati. This is a novel that’s really funny in a quirky and profoundly odd — but extremely smart — way. Did someone say Australian orgy?

The Teleportation Accident, by Ned Beauman — This novel is the definition of a book riot — just insanely funny. The most comic scene in any book this year, perhaps, involves two shyster idiots in 1930s Paris convincing a rich American mother and her daughter to try an experimental therapy to reduce aging involving sewing monkey glands onto their throats. But the two morons don’t have monkey glands, so they use little pieces of fruit instead. And all is well, until the women’s pet iguana eats the fruit and the two shysters are forced to beat a hasty retreat. I read this scene on a plane, laughing so hard, I earned more than a few concerned looks from my seatmates.

Want Not, by Jonathan Miles — In one of the opening scenes of Miles’ masterpiece novel, a fat guy hits a deer with his car, and instead of calling it in and leaving it on the side of the road, he decides to take it home. With an assist from a drunken Jersey Shore reject, they skin it and carve out the meat, with a few goofs along the way. It’s a scene that sets the tone for the whole novel — thematically and tone-wise. It’s just great. In another opening scene, after a delightful Thanksgiving meal with his in-laws, a middle-aged dude named Dave takes what he considers to be a beautiful shit. And so he takes a photo of it as it floats in the toile, which he later shows his teenage stepdaughter, to her abject horror. And those two are just the tips of the comic iceberg in this terrific story about how greed leads to waste. This novel is not just on this list of funniest novels of the year, it’s my outright pick for best novel of the year.

May We Be Forgiven, by A.M. Homes — This contemporary tale of a dude simply going off the rails is funny in a lot of ways — perhaps most notably, its absurdity. But it’s an absurdity — and this is the great trick of the novel — that you don’t feel like you need to suspend disbelief to enjoy. Of course, there’s also a few things along the way that would send Beavis and Butthead into paroxysms of giggles (and me, too), like a big banner for a kid’s Bar Mitzvah that reads “Congratulations on the Big BM.” There seems to be no shortage of scatalogical humor in this year’s funny novels. (Note: This novel was first published in late 2012, but I read its hardcover in early 2013, its paperback came out in 2013, and it’s funny enough that it’s worth bending the rules a little to include it.)

love song of jonny valentineThe Love Song of Jonny Valentine, by Teddy Wayne — Pop stars are people, too! This comic tale about an 11-year-old, Bieber-like pop star makes great fun of our society’s silly obsession with celebrity. There are certainly sad undertones to this satire (Jonny just wants to find his father), but we laugh at the stereotypical controlling mother/manager, about Jonny’s impatience for is own sexual coming-of-age, Jonny’s own exasperation with his fans and his fame (he’s self-aware well beyond his years), and how he’s coached to be a celebrity with wide appeal (in the Midwest mention God in interviews, but not too much God). Good times!

Truth in Advertising, by John Kenney — This Tropper-esque dude-lit story is like Mad Men on goofballs. Kenney tells us the tale of 39-year-old New York ad copywriter Finbar Dolan, who is our narrator through this disaffected, sarcastic romp through the ad industry. I mean, isn’t it silly how seriously these people take disposable diapers? Yes, it is, we the reader think, and then we laugh at all these jerks who are so earnest about diapers — especially as they try to make an ad that mimics the famous Apple 1984…but for diapers.

The Circle, by Dave Eggers — Different readers read this novel different ways, but if you go in expecting to be amused, you certainly will be. Eggers is really funny here (an electronic voting system called Demoxie – Democracy + Moxie, natch), in satirical ways, but also much more overtly. Our main character Mae, at one point, suffers through a viewing of Basic Instinct with her parents, and then soon after, accidentally walks in her mom giving her dad a handy — which, because she has “gone clear” (i.e., broadcasts her whole life on the internet), the whole world sees. She’s horrified. They’re horrified. And we just laugh.


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