”you ladies may find certain legal terms somewhat obscure”
For at least a couple years, I’ve thought of myself as a comedian, and, as I consider whether I do (or want to) anymore, I want to talk about humor in JR.This is a supposedly difficult novel, and like all difficult novels I’ve ever attempted, I’ve been overwhelmed with humor during the first thirty pages. In the first scene, where the Bast sisters Anne and Julia have a loopy conversation with the befuddled lawyer Mr. Coen, you can barely read two sentences without hearing the comedic timing. The sisters are constantly off topic, from Mr Coen’s point of view, as he tries to explain to them a large amount of complex legal particulars. It doesn’t just seem like an attention deficit on their part, partly because I am confronted with the legal jargon in the same way as the sisters. Their frustrations are mine when Coen goes into paragraphs about cross-purchase insurance plans, prima facie presumptions of legitimacy, or an infant’s intention to disaffirm. “I’m sure he’s only complicating things unnecessarily,” Anne comforts her sister, and me. He presses on and they make remarks about his weight. It is at least a textual undermining of the lawyer when the sisters always refer to him as “Mr. Cohen,” even though he introduces himself on page one as “Coen without the h.” Their deflections of his sledgehammer attempts at communication are likable, and funny, because I’m afraid of what he has to say too. Maybe like the viscous bunny rabbit from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, Mr. Coen represents a great and terrible foe (the complexity of law or money), while being presented as an object of ridicule (repeating himself, being fat and sickly, frustrated gesticulations, and more). The masterstroke is how much the use of humor works not as a distraction, but to underline that the very problem at the heart of this scene is one of distraction vs complexity. The scene, in its humor, is able to carry a lot of information without losing focus or becoming inhuman, a technique Mr. Coen could learn from Gaddis if he truly believes
"it is my duty to make every point […] absolutely crystal clear to you"