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I’ve been sorry to keep coming to the ends of this semester’s story collections, especially Dangerous Laughter. Many of Steven Millhauser’s stories deal with the idea of art and the imagination as abstractions by materializing them in various ways, such as a mysterious girl disguised in shadow. The sections of the book titled “Impossible Architectures” and “Heretical Histories” appear to be Millhauser attempting to get the reader on board with out-of-the-box thinking. He imagines what imagination is like and then produces absurdism that stretch the reader’s imagination. So much of the subject matter at the front of the book toys with what art is or what it means to be imaginative, and the later stories demonstrate the possibilities of imagination by creating worlds in which a tower can be built to heaven, glass domes threaten to encapsulate the planet, and children’s paint can become animate. The stories have reminded me that as a writer, I can dream up anything I want and make it convincing. Beginning with the first story in the collection, “Cat n’ Mouse,” it is clear that Millhauser wanted to bend conventional plots and re-capture a playful mindset that many readers have probably forgotten about. Being able to read these tales is like having an instruction manual on re-learning creativity. I loved reading the “Heretical Histories.” Sometimes in class workshop we say something hasn’t been “fully imagined.” Millhauser is an amazing role model for thoroughly considering the effects of the scenarios he creates. His stories consider even the most minute, peculiar results for example, the restlessness created in the citizens of a town when they know that nearby there’s a mirror image of their world, the dead birds damaging glass domes, the inability for people living at one level of a heaven-high tower to travel to lower or levels, or the fervent embrace of formless clothes by women. Dangerous Laughter demonstrates again and again Millhauser’s mastery of the kind of stories we’ve been trying to write all semester: stories that persuade, that engage by stretching the bounds of believability, and stories that explain that the power of the imagination is its ability to make the fantastic real.

 

-Ashley

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