Exit Laughing
by Victoria Zackheim

North Atlantic Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1-583-94407-3.
Reviewed by Janet Caplan
Posted on 07/11/2012

Anthologies/Collections; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

The stories in Exit Laughing all address a subject that many of us have difficulty discussing: death and its inevitability, its circumstances, its sadness and all the other emotions that go along with it. But the dominant theme running throughout this anthology, and hence the title, is humor. It is so welcome.

Each of the authors in Victoria Zackheim's collection shares personal anecdotes and stories: fond (and sometimes not so fond) recollections all tinged with the love, feelings, and humor enjoyed with the subjects. Ms. Zackheim says in her introduction that so many of us use humor to ease pain; it can play an important role in helping us talk about and accept the death of a loved one. This anthology clearly underscores that concept.

The stories offer what I would characterize as a sigh of relief, a sense that life will go on. The pieces offer affectionate descriptions of the people now passed and their relevance to those around them. What truly comes across is their meaningfulness in the authors' lives. Each story radiates a thoughtfulness, a warmth and a humor, not simply in the writer's knowledge of her subject but in the telling of the tale.

I won't single out any story specifically since I truly enjoyed them all. The individuals who populate these pieces come from diverse backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities and that in itself made for a most interesting read. The stories also reiterated what I already knew through my personal experiences, that we all as human beings share similar experiences and emotions, that we are more alike than we are different. A simple message but one to remind ourselves of now and then.

As author Benita Garvin aptly states in her story, "Measuring Grief," "I found out that my reactions—from what made me cry to what made me laugh—were not unique, they were universal. It was a humbling experience."

Victoria Zackheim is author of the novel The Bone Weaver and editor of several anthologies, including The Other Woman, The Face in the Mirror, and He Said What? A 2010 San Francisco Library Laureate, she teaches personal essay writing in the University of California, Los Angeles Extension Writers' Program. Visit her website.

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