Dark, Cynical, Satirical or Otherwise Weird

One of the fun things about teaching has been sharing with students a wide variety of writing. My interests often tend toward the fantastical, the weird, the violent, the darkly humorous, and happily, several of my students shared my interests.

Early on, we read “The School” by Donald Barthelme. A good litmus test for how twisted your sense of humor is: “Where does this story stop being funny and start being tragic?”

If you haven’t read it, give it a look, it’s less than 1000 words.

For some of the students in my class, it stopped being funny with the Korean Orphan, but for me, that was the funniest part of the whole story. I = terrible.

So one of my students was asking me to recommend reading to him, especially short stories, that are “dark, cynical, satirical, or otherwise weird”. And here’s what I recommended. but I’d love more recommendations from my readers. This student’s taste does not tend toward to fantasy or horror, so I’ve tried to keep those recommendations to a minimum. Most of my favorite stories and novels that fit the bill are dark fantasy. Here is what I came up with from my own reading:

  • Edward Gorey, for demented poetry and illustrations
  • Other stories by Donald Barthelme
  • Jesus’s Son by Denis Johnson
  • George Saunders, especially “Sea Oak”
  • The short stories of Stephen King (often better than his novels, IMO, with a satirical aspect to the horror), Neil Gaiman, Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, Vladimir Nabokov, and Franz Kafka.
  • Jane Austen, Thackeray (Vanity Fair), W. Somerset Maugham, and Edith Wharton are all writing biting social satire in their novels, but their subjects may not be to his taste.
  • The novel Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett is a dark satire about the apocalypse.
  • The Maltese Falcon is an excellent example of noir detective writing, and reads almost exactly like the a screenplay for the movie. I have never read a novel that is so close to the movie, but works in both mediums.
  • P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories are not so dark, but they are funny and satirical.
  • Lynda Barry’s stories and novels, especially Cruddy, are hideously dark. Cruddy reminds me of the TV show Justified, but if it focused more on the sad peripheral characters and was a lot more gruesome, but also compelling and impossible to put down
  • Generation Kill, about the Iraq war is non-fiction, but the characters are so darkly funny that I think this student might really enjoy it. And the HBO miniseries is just as good if not better.
  • T.C. Boyle’s short stories–are less dark, more realist, but still somewhat satirical. My favorite of his is his novel Drop City, about a bunch of hippies who try homesteading over a winter in Alaska, and their ideals come up against the reality of a long cold winter.
  • Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is an autobiographical graphic novel about her growing up in a funeral parlor, with her gay, closeted father.

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve been enjoying Visitant, which is a collection of short stories. My favorite of them so far is, “Second Journey of the Magus” by Ian MacLeod. I also really liked The God Engine by John Scalzi. Both are dark and twisted in different and similiar ways. Second Journey is an “whatif” type of story and the other is just a dark sci-fi novela.

    The God Engine kept me up for about an hour or two when I finished it and I had to go find fluff. 😀 So far Second Journey hasn’t kept me up except for wanting to finish it off.

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