Friday, May 06, 2011

A tiny little joke

{Dollhouse-scale baloney sandwich photo by Flickr user Miss Millificent. Some rights reserved by the photographer; reproduced under a Creative Commons license.}

Over the weekend I read What's So Funny? (2007) the next-to-last Dortmunder novel. And there was a line in it that made me laugh, not because it was funny, which it only barely was, but because its sheer pointless superfluity--and the fecundity of the comic imagination that such a frothy overflow of jokes suggests--seemed in its way to sum up Westlake's angle on the world: almost everything is funny, if you just pay attention.

And now you want to hear the joke, right? Remember, I warned you that it's not, strictly speaking, that funny. Okay: a group of lawyers, security personnel, and claimants to a disputed inheritance are meeting to discuss plans for moving some of the goods in question, and
The more senior of the NYPD men present, whose name was Chief Inspector Mologna (pronounced Maloney), now spoke.
Well, at least half of you probably now think I'm a lunatic. But that other half: can't you sense the joy--the crooked smile that must have lit up Westlake's face when he typed that? You read a joke like that--pointless, stupid, groan-inducing, included just because it came to mind and a master craftsman makes use of all the tools at hand--and you're reminded of why this guy's one of your favorite writers no matter what mode or genre he's working in.

You other folks should rest assured that the novel does contain a lot of actual comedy, as well as an entertaining heist. The baloney joke's on page 234 of the cloth edition, second paragraph, so you can skip it when you get there if that'll make you happier.


  1. Made me laugh (well, chuckle) too. Thanks.

  2. I'm sure he was tempted to give his inspector a first name of Oscar...

  3. It's always special to find twinkles of an author's humor sprinkled in unlikely places...and it's so sweet when you pick up on the joke, it feels like making a special connection with the author. I love leaving little "snicker" material around in my novels.

  4. Anonymous8:07 AM

    HA! I enjoy that kind of humor - almost Wodehousian. When Wodehouse writes "I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled." I roll on the floor where some would roll their eyes.