Top 5: Terry Bazes
The Pleasantville author on five of his favorite comic novels
Author Terry Richard Bazes’s second book—the darkly comic work Lizard World—will be published in October. Here, the Pleasantville resident shares five of his many favorite comic novels.
King, Queen, Knave, Vladimir Nabokov
Bazes says there are very few books that have truly changed his life. This look at a romantic relationship between the bumbling young Franz, his clownish uncle Dreyer, and the deliciously amoral Martha, one of them. “It is not the greatest of his works,” he says, “but here was the promise of it all.”
Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne
Bazes calls this classic “the waggish patriarch of all comic novels,” describing it as “an outlandish domestic farce and extended dirty joke that defies description.” Particularly noteworthy is its “bawdy hilarity and antic structural acrobatics,” he says, adding that it was the first such novel to show him the ultimate seriousness of the comic form.
Vital Parts, Thomas Berger
One of a series showcasing Carlo Reinhart, whom Bazes calls “an oversized and immensely loveable philosopher of failure,” this title explores the breakup of Reinhart’s disastrous marriage while he embarks upon a scheme to freeze and resurrect the dead. “But it is the characters—Reinhart’s contemptuous wife, his hostile son Blaine, and his outlandish black friend Splendor Mainwaring—that one remembers,” he says.
A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh
“Nothing is as funny as someone else stubbing his toe,” opines the author. Here, the toe in question belongs to Tony Last, “a clueless upper-crust British mediocrity whose wife—pretty, vain, and bored—falls for a vacuous opportunist.” Calling the title a “masterpiece of comic cruelty,” Bazes says the novel examines what happens as, one by one, the comfortable certainties of Last’s world disintegrate. “At a hilariously wicked climax,” Bazes adds, “he falls captive to a Dickens-loving illiterate in the Brazilian jungle.”
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
Bazes calls this novel “an astonishing comic circus” and describes its protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, as “a fat, slothful, perpetually farting medievalist and self-styled superior being.” But even more astonishing, adds Bazes, is the fact that this novel won the Pulitzer Prize several years after its much-rejected and despairing author committed suicide. “That itself is a cautionary tale about the fickleness of fortune, the fragility of authors, and the blindness of publishers,” he says.