Nabokov: a verbal knife: carving precisely honed metaphors, exposition, and evocative details. LAUGHTER IN THE DARK is a zany, cruel parable examining adulterous impulse, primarily that of the protagonist Albinus, but exploring the motivations of all involved with amused impartiality. It seems to be not only a satire of domestic pulp drama, but a darkly fascinated study of cruelty.
As a writer, Nabokov is obviously engaged by plot structure, but there's some deeper, more mysterious compulsion here, something mirrory and cold: which is perhaps only the godlike relish of an 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 rather, as Emerson said of Shakespeare, "out of doors." Perhaps because his truest engagement is a self-contained ego-delight in his own brilliance and facility, independent of the reader: at times offering said reader no further purchase than an 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, entirely inevitable ways. As a narrative, LAUGHTER IN THE DARK is efficient but unhurried, offering 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.