Dr. Oliver Harding, a tenured professor of English, is long settled into the routines of a divorced, aging academic. But his quiet, staid life is upended by his new colleague, Ruhaba Khan, a dynamic Pakistani Muslim law professor.
A no-holds-barred comic achievement that lambastes the power structures keeping men like Oliver skulking the halls of academe ... Jha renders Oliver’s bumbling narcissism with impressive skill: Clearly writing across experience, she captures the clueless voice of a supremely privileged man to intense comic effect ... Every scene is infused with the anxieties of a democracy on the brink of collapse and an education system facing a crisis of conscience. To say The Laughter is just a campus novel is to vastly undersell it; it’s also the story of America’s changing cultural landscape and the major political and philosophical shifts needed to uplift and protect the marginalized.
The Laughter is an impressive performance, a disturbing character study of a man who views himself as the literal white knight in almost every scenario. Harding, however, never quite rises above being an avatar of the ugly American stereotype. Some of his actions and views strain credulity and feel overdetermined ... The Laughter seems to argue that the worst consequences of these structures are immutable and inevitable. Harding’s transformation — if there is one — is a devolution from workplace lust to a fatalistic level of criminality. Harding expresses little remorse or accountability for his actions, and that seems to be the somewhat heavy-handed point.
Author Sonora Jha presents her story and characters through Harding’s eyes. In the process, she paints a detailed portrait of a representative of academic white privilege who cannot imagine losing his authority ... Jha has crafted her novel as a kind of mystery. It isn’t until the end that we the readers realize why the police and the FBI are interviewing Harding. Is he really controlling the narrative as deftly as he thinks he is doing? ... The Laughter is a brilliant, totally absorbing character study.