The Material: A Novel (Hardcover)

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“A novel about an MFA program for stand-up comics better be damned funny, and The Material is definitely that. It’s also profound, deeply engrossing, dark, and generous, a great novel about humans making art right now.”—Sam Lipsyte, author of No One Left to Come Looking for You

“Brilliance is on display here.”—Percival Everett, author of James and The Trees

Can comedy be taught? Someone, at some point, seemed to think so. The Chicago Stand-Up MFA program has enrolled young comedians for nearly a decade.

Its teachers and students all know how bits work—in theory, at least. They know that there’s a line between sharp and cruel, that sad becomes funny at the right angle, that the worst is the best, the truth is the worst, and any moment of your life that isn’t a punch line will either get you to a punch line or force you to be one.

They’re all afraid to be one.

Artie may be too handsome for standup, Olivia too reluctant to examine her own life, and Phil too afraid to cause harm. Kruger may be too vanilla to command his students’ respect, Ashbee too detached. And then we have Dorothy—the only woman on the program’s faculty—who though preparing to launch a comeback tour can’t tell if she’s too abiding, too ambitious, or too ambivalent.

Whether a visiting professor—the high-profile, controversy-steeped comedian Manny Reinhardt—will do more to help or harm their cause remains to be seen. But he’s on his way. He’ll be arriving sooner than anyone thinks.

Riffing keenly across a diverse array of precision-cut perspectives, The Material examines life through the eyes of a reluctantly assembled ensemble, a band of outsiders bound together by the need to laugh and the longing to make others laugh even harder.

About the Author

Camille Bordas is the author of three prizewinning novels. The most recent, How to Behave in a Crowd, was the first she wrote in English. The earlier two, Partie Commune and Les Treize Desserts, were written in her native French. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. She has been named a Guggenheim Fellow. Born in France, raised in Mexico City and Paris, she currently lives in Chicago.

Praise For…

“This novel is so smart. Camille Bordas has exposed the ‘material’ of stand-up by making stand-up her material. Writing comedy is difficult enough, but writing comedy bits that fail and comedy bits that succeed requires some brilliance. That brilliance is on display here.”—Percival Everett, author of James and The Trees

“Camille Bordas’s novel is wryly funny and painfully awkward, populated by an irresistible cast of overthinkers and second-guessers. It’s a deep and illuminating pleasure, full of insights about stand-up comedy, group dynamics, and the inner lives of artists.”—Tom Perrotta, author of Tracy Flick Can’t Win

“What begins as a clever conceit becomes an interrogation of sadness itself. Almost suspended in time, the novel elucidates the irreconcilability of learning and living, of performance and being.”—Rachel Cusk, author of Second Place

“Like the most brilliant comedy, The Material is not only very funny but also incisive and insightful. Reading it, I understood more acutely the thin line between the plausible and the absurd. Come for the laughs, stay for the observations so deadpan and accurate that you may be blinded by your own reflection.”—Ling Ma, author of Bliss Montage and Severance
Product Details
ISBN: 9780593729847
ISBN-10: 0593729846
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: June 11th, 2024
Pages: 288
Language: English