Sarah Manguso is the author of four books, most recently the memoir The Two Kinds of Decay, due out in paperback this spring. A 2008 Rome Prize Fellow, she lives in Brooklyn and teaches at the Pratt Institute.
Kyril Bonfiglioli’s 1970s art-heist trilogy – Don’t Point That Thing at Me (1973), Something Nasty in the Woodshed (1976), and After You with the Pistol (1979) – was described by none other than Stephen Fry (Jeeves!) as “P. G. Wodehouse, but with sex and violence.” Hero Charlie Mortdecai’s catastrophically intoned condescension provides foreground; a blackly indifferent universe provides background. The ensuing laughter is complex – Charlie’s wit holds vast pain and fear. It should come as no surprise that Bonfiglioli drank himself to death.
Laughlin’s fragmentary recollections (The Way It Wasn’t edited by Barbara Epler and Daniel Javitch) demonstrate soundly that memoir isn’t reportage but a form built by a guiding intelligence. That’s the reason why in a Wodehouse novel everyone at the table shuts up when one of the aunts announces that “Mr. Wooster is telling an anecdote.” It’s a made thing, a crafted thing. It’s a rescue from the tedium of what happened.