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Love Is Not The Answer

THE LAUGHING MATTER, William Saroyan; Doubleday, 254 pages; $3.50.

By Herbert S. Meyers

A similarity between The Laughing Matter and the earlier Saroyan novels is to be expected. So long as an author has a philosophy of life, and so long as this philosophy dominates his writing, this is natural and, to a certain extent, welcome.

William Saroyan's starting place is well known. It was clearly expressed in a short story he wrote sometime before 1940: "Okay, baby, this is the world," he wrote, "It's lousy, but it's the only thing there is, so you might just as well take it easy and enjoy it."

He has never departed from this point, although he has prescribed a pattern for living within this situation. That pattern has taken several forms, but the one expounded most frequently in his novels is expressed by the father in Wealey Jackson: "There is no truth excepting it is from love." "What this has meant is that his characters ignore the "meaningless" world and seek a haven in love-love for each other, love for the good which exists in everyone.

"This went along quite well until he hit a book in 1951 called Rock Wagram. Something happened here. Saroyan discovered that this pattern was unacceptable. To love, he discovered, one must have someone to love, and despite the fact that he wanted his characters to love each other for the good in them, he found that the senseless world often exerted pressures on certain individuals which made them unacceptable objects of this love.

And so Rock Wagram was a tragedy. The Laughing Matter is the same story. It is a story in which the author points out that the individual, no matter how hard he seeks to live in this world of love, cannot succeed. It is all frustration and despair, and it ends in a hopeless muddle. To put it in the terms of his leading a character, Evan Nazerenus, "And finally, he felt the laughter. It was an accident though. It was one accident after another, ending in laughter."

This is the side of Saroyan that brings on his failure. Philosophically, he has reached a dead end. The Laughing Matter ends with a suicide, a shooting, and a fatal automobile accident. The book builds up to a point of tension, but Saroyan's obsession with this "bad world" makes the plot resolution completely unsatisfying.

But there is another side of Saroyan, and this is the side in which his brilliance shines. He written through people who are warm and compassionate, simple and tender, people who are grouping for something to understand. His style here is free and uncomplicated, and in The Laughing Matter he duplicates the fine prose that made The Human Comery and the Aram stories outstanding.

For a large portion of the book Saroyan's prose stands out against the anguish of the situation, making the pain of his characters terrible in its poignancy. It is unfortunate that it must all sink in the bog of his plot.

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