This has been acknowledged as the most autobiographical of any of Landvik’s ten novels. I have it on good authority. I’ve met her many times, but I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with Lorna at a writers’ conference on the shores of Lake Superior. She was the keynote speaker and shared her journey, much of which is somehow alluded to in this book. This book will let you see further into her than any of her other books.
Best to Laugh is a nostalgic yet bittersweet look at a time when a girl was just coming into her own. A new place, new people, new risks and new opportunities, and this is her enjoying it all. The setting is Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, taking place at a storied apartment complex full of washed-up legends, wannabes and up-and-comers. The cast of characters is large, yet there is never confusion, because they are all so distinct.
There might have been, in lesser hands, some temptation to make cheap jokes at the expense of some of the characters, or to make them into caricatures of their own selves. But that is not what happens here. The main character, our lovely Candy, is earnest, she is honest and young and thriving and striving. And she takes every person as they are, though of course some of the fun is a tiny bit of Landvik’s own wit, which errs on the side of truthfulness, as all good humor does.
Landvik is a smart, whip-funny wisecracker who does dialogue like no one else, and I have no doubt that many of these lines were taken from real life. Candy is someone we want to know, who we wouldn’t mind having as a friend, whose famous yellow cake with fudge icing we would want to sample. (Lorna confessed to me that hers was “real” fudge, with a shell that you had to crack.) And being herself, we can’t help but root for her. We don’t know from the beginning explicitly what happens to her, so every turn around the corner is a delight, from working at the record company to being a temp at the ‘Rogue Mansion’ to her relationship with the seer to the stars to her blossoming comic career.
You will laugh, you will cry. I mean it. This is not a trite cliché. Okay, well, maybe it is. But just go on a little ride down memory lane, with the Hollywood pool and the dreams and hopes of a girl that you would swear was your best friend in high school. The bittersweet part is set up at the very beginning, when we see a faded dress hanging near a photo of an apartment complex under the wrecking ball. But that’s okay. All good things must come to an end.
And that, I think, is the message of this book. We are here for a time, we are there for a time, and that is our time. Enjoy it, meet people, talk, love, eat, drink, laugh. Best to laugh. Really. I loved this ride. The feeling it leaves behind reminds me a lot of Rainbow Rowell’s Landline. If you liked Landline, you will love this too.
If you get a chance, go see Lorna in person. She is a treat and a delight. Check her website for her upcoming events. Those in the Twin Cities would do well to mark out a spot on their calendar in January, in case she does her improv at Bryant Lake Bowl again.
Note: Minnesotans might recognize some place names alluded to in this. After all, who is Candy Ohi anyway?
Best to Laugh by Lorna Landvik
University of MN Press, 296 pages, hardcover
ISBN 9780816694532, 2014
Released in paperback Sept 1, 2015