Nabokov: a verbal knife. Precisely carved metaphor, exposition, physical observation. LAUGHTER IN THE DARK is a zany, cruel parable concerning adulterous impulse, examining the motivations of all involved with a witty impartiality. It seems to be not only a satiric riff on episodic pulp melodrama, but a sickly fascinated study of cruelty.
Nabokov is obviously fascinated by plot structure, but there's some deeper, more mysterious engagement happening here, something mirrory and cold: which is perhaps only the godlike relish of the omnipotent puppeteer.
"Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster. This is the whole of the story and we might have left it at that had there not been profit and pleasure in the telling; and although there is plenty of space on a gravestone to contain, bound in moss, the abridged version of a man's life, detail is always welcome."
One can often discern an author's fundamental engagement, but with Nabokov one is kept somewhat, as Emerson said of Shakespeare, "out of doors." Perhaps because his true engagement is a rather self-contained, egotistical delight in his own facility and brilliance, independent of the reader: at times offering no further purchase than one's admiration of technique. But admiration the reader will feel, as Nabokov vividly renders entire personalities with just a few eccentric details; and horror too, as the protagonist's circumstances grow worse in unforeseen, yet entirely inevitable ways. LAUGHTER IN THE DARK is tightly written, efficient not hurried, offering a scenery both stark and colorful on its walk along that precarious ledge between humor and pathos - on one or other side of which, the most adept walker finally falls.