[Women in Genre, Day 19] R.J. Astruc and Dark Laughs
I appreciate beauty, prose and darkness in my fiction. The authors I have highlighted prove this, but I have another love – humor. Humor, sarcasm and witty banter have been integral in my life as I consider myself a pretty funny guy with some chops for improvisation. I have a drag queen’s tongue, so I appreciate a mind with an asinine sense of humor and unsavory jokes. R.J. Astruc is a writer who delivered everything I love in humor and left it in my lap with a pretty bow.
I read Astruc’s “A Festival of Skeletons” back in 2010 (I can’t believe four years have come and gone already) and thought it to be one of the most hilarious novels I have ever read. Provided my reading in humorous fantasy ends with Pratchett, I couldn’t not compare it to the master of funny as I laughed uncontrollably (something I used to do when reading Pratchett as a teen). However, the difference between Pratchett and Astruc is the edge to her humor. She takes her comedy one step further and touches upon genuinely unfunny topics such as cannibalism, massacres or serial killers. Admittedly, violence has been a comedic subject for ages, but what Astruc succeeds at is to keep the danger and thrills at the core of it.
I want to provide my favorite dialogue from the novel:
‘I’m seventeen,’ said Percy.
‘I’m forty six,’ said Vona. ‘But I only grew limbs five years ago.’
‘I can be a bit of a bastard to women,’ said Percy.
‘I ate a sailor once,’ said Vona.
‘I’m pretty good in bed,’ said Percy.
‘I don’t breathe with my mouth,’ said Vona.
Percy took her hand in his and sighed. ‘Oh, Vona,’ he said.
‘We’re bloody perfect for each other.’
The reason why I love “A Festival of Skeletons” so much is because of the main protagonist – a drag queen mortician with death prediction abilities. The combination of these characteristics is so ridiculous, the character can either fall flat and read as completely offensive or it can become larger than life in the best way possible. In Astruc’s hands, Ebenezer Sink is a fierce queen with a no-nonsense attitude who is in control of his own life (at least as far as an apocalypse allows). Fantasy has been the realm of perfection.
Perfect men save kingdoms and do so with equally perfect comrades who transcend the common people either with their breath-taking beauty and physical condition or through their morals and personal sacrifices. Astruc tells her story of apocalypse with saviors who are on the fringe – those eccentric, murderous and generally flawed. I rarely read a protagonist I can really associate with or relate because their behavior has been moderated to best serve their own stories, while Astruc concerns herself with the less savory and completely natural urges and character flaws that rear their heads in true crisis.
It’s why I wish to celebrate R.J. Astruc as one of my Women of Genre.