ORANGE LAUGHTER is a novel that brings together three hard-to-read stories about people who are equally pained --- physically, emotionally and intellectually. The stories bounce back and forth between New York in the '90s, where the former hottie model Tony Pellar now lives in the subway tunnels as his mind recedes, and North Carolina in the '60s, where Mikey and Agatha, Tony's childhood friends, suffer all sorts of awful things. The first novel by Leone Ross to be published in America, ORANGE LAUGHTER is a strange brew of sadness and madness.
Each character narrates their own chapter --- Tony's being the most difficult to read. Written in a pained run-on monologue, it tries for a visceral examination of madness and what could be called the saving graces of the imagination; but it falls short because Tony makes absolutely no sense in his present state. It is only through the ruminations of Mikey, an unhappy academic, and Agatha, a disfigured woman with not much to live for, that we learn about Tony before his descent into madness. ORANGE LAUGHTER is not the work of a mature writer and so finds itself difficult to lock into the reader's imagination, forcing us to be more annoyed with the proceedings than interested and compelled by them. ORANGE LAUGHTER uses the civil rights movement as a backdrop, but you get the sense that the stories are being written from history and not personal experience --- thus, they lose that first-person sense that the individual chapters are trying to establish.
ORANGE LAUGHTER is a nice try, but Leone Ross has not yet found her groove.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on November 1, 2000