show menu

Book review: ‘Laughing in the Dark’

Can a novel immersed in and obsessed by the final inevitability be joyful? The late Susan Swartz's “Laughing in the Dark” is just that. There are three protagonists, women of a certain age. They have a bond that is strong and solid and they not only care for one another but are deeply loyal. The plot the author has assured her readers came from silly and profound wine-fueled chats with her own close friends.

The novel opens as the trio embark on what is a yearly camping trip. It is a time for no pretense, skinny dipping and imbibing. There is Jude, who is slightly overweight and has a devoted husband and a daughter who works in San Francisco. She is overwhelmed with anxiety because her memory has been a bit faulty of late and she fears she may be developing Alzheimer's Disease. She had watched her mother pitifully decline into a vegetative state and she fears it may also be her fate. She panics. The other two ladies notice her aberrant behavior. Anna is a real estate agent and has had successful breast cancer surgery. She also has a philandering husband and a flamboyant mother-in-law who lives with them. Her mother-in-law has recently changed her name from Helen to Heather. Franny is a teacher who is writing a book and has intermittent liaisons with her ex-husband until she hooks up with an old friend, wheelchair bound Jeffrey, who subsequently becomes her lover. Chapters go back and forth featuring each one of the participants. The women are quite different in temperament and style but somehow, they gel and they really love each other.

The author, Susan Swartz, was probably best known for being a reporter and columnist for local newspapers for many years. She was a brilliant journalist but curious and compassionate, there didn't seem to be anything that she was not interested in.

She was very much involved in art and also charitable events. One of her claims to fame was the high honor of being trashed by the late right-wing icon, Rush Limbaugh. He called her a "fem-Nazi". Also she was said to be the originator of the phrase "bad hair day". If there was one word to describe Susan it would be "vivacious" from the Latin vivere, to live. She sparkled, until the day shortly after the death of her husband, when she parked her car at Bodega Head and deliberately crossed the barrier and stepped off the cliff.

With “Laughing in the Dark” she leaves a poignant and powerful legacy.

We've moved our commenting system to Disqus, a widely used community engagement tool that you may already be using on other websites. If you're a registered Disqus user, your account will work on the Gazette as well. If you'd like to sign up to comment, visit
Show Comment