One type of book that merits continual re-reading is a great collection of stories. A perfect example of this is Dangerous Laughter: 13 Stories by Stephen Millhauser, and it proves – if nothing else – that Millhauser is truly a master of the written word. Some of you may have read Millhauser’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Martin Dressler, or any of his other 10 works but, if you haven’t, these stories are a perfect way to enter his world of unique and memorable characters. In this book, one of his recurring themes is that of a search for something almost unattainable, and the inevitable collapse or cold realizations that follows. The blurb on the book jacket actually says these stories are “united by their obsession with obsession.” These aren’t lurid tales, mind you, but perfectly wrought tales that somehow blend the harshly realistic with the borderline fantastic. There’s a story called “The Other Town” that tells of a small town that has, since it’s origin in the 1680’s, maintained an exact replica town – the other town – just through the woods. Why would anyone do this, you ask? The narrator’s theory is that it allows the residents freedoms they would never dare in their own town: they can climb the unfamiliar stairways of their neighbors, or enter secret rooms and basements. And the story being told is as unique as the story, itself – it doesn’t ask or answer lots of questions, it simply shows us this odd little world, leaving us to wonder about these people who’ve created “the other town.” You finish the story thinking about these characters, and the characters in all his stories, as if you’ve just read an intriguing essay, not a fictional story. The title story, “Dangerous Laughter,” tells of a group of teenagers who engage in a game that, when first described, sounds as if it is clearly something sexual. But while it isn’t sexual, it shares the same strange and seductive power over these teens. It’s about laughing, how it slowly builds, how it takes over and seems to jump from person to person, and just how far can it go? All of his premises are extraordinary, and every story is just as memorably designed and executed.