20 Darkly Comic Books

Sarcasm, social satire, dark comedy and books that make you go hmmm.

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'American Psycho' by Bret Easton Ellis

Ellis's deadpan psychological thriller and satire of the 1980s (amazon.com) follows privileged Patrick Bateman, who works on Wall Street by day and brutally murders and mutilates victims at night.

'The Astral' by Kate Christensen

Harry Quirk has never had to try very hard. A man of a certain age with a talent for writing poetry, the charming and introspective narrator of this novel (amazon.com) has always found women willing to pay his bills, publish his poems and meet his carnal, physical and psychological needs. That is, until the day his editor moves to London, his best friend falls for a man half her age and his wife (and muse) kicks him out of their Brooklyn apartment. Harry is left with no choice but to contemplate change, the kind that’s happening to his beloved neighborhood, to his fractured family and maybe, if he is smart and lucky, within himself. —Pam Houston

'Big Girls Don't Cry' by Fay Weldon

It's 1971 and five women in London decide to form a feminist publishing house in an attempt to break free of bad marriages, crappy sex lives and failing families. Weldon's farcical fiction (amazon.com) is about women who, despite the changing times, can't get past the the draw of powerful men.

'Even Cowgirls Get the Blues' by Tom Robbins

Robbins is known for his irreverent social commentaries. This one (amazon.com), about a woman born with enormously large thumbs (she puts them to use, naturally, as a hitchhiker) who travels to New York, is a medtiation on freedom and sexuality.

'Day of the Oprichnik' by Vladimir Sorokin

Sorokin's disturbing, dystopian Moscow features an empire in trouble, where "futuristic technology and the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible are in perfect synergy." There's also corporal punishment as well as genetically modified fish in this delicious, darkly funny novel. (amazon.com)

'The Edible Woman' by Margaret Atwood

Atwood explores gender stereotypes in her clever 1969 feminist novel about Marian, a woman who begins to lose her identity—and her appetite—after she gets engaged.

'Then We Came to the End' by Joshua Ferris

Ferris's smart, subtle satire (amazon.com) of an advertising office beset by layoffs after the dot-com bubble has burst hits almost-too-close to home.

'A Visit From the Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan

In 13 linked short stories, Egan chronicles the lives of aging characters who work in the music industry. The book (amazon.com), which won the Pulitzer Prize, cleverly experiments with structure and time: one chapter is formatted as a PowerPoint printout.

'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins

Collins's thought-provoking young adult novel (amazon.com) turned pop culture phenom comments on the perils of reality TV. In what was once North America, one boy and one girl are forced to appear on television in an annual fight to the death, the bizarre terms of a treaty that ended a civil war.

'I Am America (And So Can You!)' by Stephen Colbert

"I am no fan of books. And chances are, if you're reading this, you and I share a healthy skepticism about the printed word. Well, I want you to know that this is the first book I've ever written, and I hope it's the first book you've ever read. Don't make a habit of it," writes dedicated satirist Colbert in the introduction to his hilarious book (amazon.com) on faith, family, politics and, of course, patriotism.

'I Like You' by Amy Sedaris

Sedaris's hilarious homage to hosting parties is a wonderfully wacky guide (amazon.com) to entertaining in your home. "Having a party is one of the most creative and generous activities that every person can enjoy and indulge in, if you're on the list," she writes. "Remember, by inviting someone into your home, you're saying 'I like you.'"

'Little Children' by Tom Perrotta

In this satire of suburbia and parental angst (amazon.com), adults raise their kids in a sleepy town where not much happens—until one summer when a convicted child molester moves back to town and two parents begin an all-consuming affair.

'Money' by Martin Amis

In this exhilarating, funny portrait of life in the fast lane (amazon.com), John Self, a director, pursues the many pleasures of excess.

'Super Sad True Love Story' by Gary Shteyngart

The Absurdistan author imagines a futuristic America where the masses are illiterate, the rich live forever and a person’s private data (think BMI, credit scores) is visible with the click of a button. One man’s love story plays out in these confusing times as the U.S. government is on the brink of collapse. (amazon.com)

'Survivor' by Chuck Palahniuk

In this dark, insightful satire (amazon.com) about fame and the modern world, a media heavyweight dictates his life story into the flight recorder of an airplane which is about to crash into the Australian Outback.

'The Ask' by Sam Lipsyte

Lipsyte's darkly comic novel (amazon.com) follows a newly unemployed husband and father who's grasping after odd jobs to support his family.

'The Lonely Polygamist' by Brady Udall

This tragicomic tale (amazon.com) of one man's midlife crisis follows Golden Richards, a husband to four wives and father to 28 kids. When his business begins to fail and his family, "an overpopulated mini-dukedom," struggles to get along, Richards is thrown into poignant, hilarious turmoil.

'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' by Jeff Lindsay

"There is somethign strange and disarming about looking at a homicide scene in the bright daylight of the Miami sun," says Dexter Morgan, the narrator of Lindsay's brilliant, darkly funny collection of thrillers (amazon.com)  about a serial killer who hunts other serial killers. "It makes the most grotesque killings look antiseptic, staged. Like you're in a new and daring section of Disney World."

'Bumped' by Megan McCafferty

Reproductive rights are at the center of McCafferty's wonderfully creative dystopian novel (amazon.com) about a virus that makes everyone over the age of 18 infertile. The solution? Would-be parents pay teen girls to give birth to their children, making highschoolers the gems of society.

'Boomsday' by Christopher Buckley

Political satirist Buckley imagines the life of Cassandra Devine, a 20-something blogger who causes cultural hysteria when she suggests Baby Boomers be given government incentives to kill themselves by age 75. Why the dramatic suggestion? To save Social Security, of course. (amazon.com)


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For a slideshow of 20 Chic Nonfiction Reads, click here.

First Published September 20, 2011

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