You don’t really expect a moody thriller to be infused with humor or for a story about assassins to be laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s these irreverent flashes that often shed the most illumination on a serious subject. Dark comedic touches are effective (and entertaining) in a book that could otherwise become dour or earnest and encourage us to challenge our understanding of the protagonist and the trouble they are in.
These six books, ranging from thriller to memoir aren’t afraid of a little black humor to highlight the absurdity of even our most serious pursuits. It’s bold to make a joke in the darkest of moments, but it’s also where insight and humanity tend to shine the brightest.
John Dies at the End by David Wong
This cult favorite is as dark as it is funny, merging the bizarre with the enlightening like a hallucinogenic trip—which it kind of is. Two friends with little ambition become anti-heroes and humanity’s last hope as they try to stop an invasion of terrifying, futuristic beings without ever shedding their slacker sensibilities.
Sweetpea by C.J. Skuse
Rhiannon looks like a nice, normal young woman—but looks, of course, can be deceiving. Having survived a childhood overshadowed by a notorious crime, it seems like Rhiannon would want to just live a quiet life, which she does—when she is not compiling a list of people to exact murderous revenge upon.
Normal by Graeme Cameron
Don’t let the tidy garden, sense of humor and nice house fool you—the perfectly fine-looking man at the grocery store is shopping for food to feed to the women he captures and cages in his basement. It’s what he’s always done and he’s good at it—and the way he tells it, he believes it’s perfectly normal. He might even begin to have you believing it as well.
Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
We don’t expect light reading from Chuck Palahniuk and we don’t get it here. But we do expect messed up characters that do messed up things while harboring a razor sharp wit and this story, about a desperate con artist who is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he needs, delivers.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Eli and Charlie are the Sisters brothers, hired guns in the sunset of their careers chasing down one more hit before retirement—well, that’s the plan anyway. The tension and violence run high in this take on a classic Western but so does the humor, lending an engaging sense of the absurd to what is ultimately a story about brotherly love.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
They say that tragedy plus time equals comedy, and for Jenny Lawson (otherwise known as The Bloggess), this formula seems to ring true. With wit and empathy, Lawson weaves tales of an unconventional upbringing and the challenges of mental illness with a unique humor that could make the reader feel uncomfortable if it wasn’t all so well written.
Are you a fan of dark comedies? Let us know your thoughts in the comments