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  • Humoring Resistance: Laughter and the Excessive Body in Latin American Women’s Fiction
Humoring Resistance: Laughter and the Excessive Body in Latin American Women’s Fiction State University of New York Press, 2004 By Dianna C. Niebylski

Humoring Resistance: Laughter and the Excessive Body in Latin American Women's Fiction is about humor and laughter, but it is no laughing matter. This is a highly original and witty study of alternative feminist strategies of disruptive humor in contemporary Latin American women's writing. Niebylski has produced a superb piece of literary criticism that coherently and convincingly demonstrates the importance of humor as a transgressive discourse. True to her comparativist training, she elegantly bypasses the binary simplifications of male vs. female perspective, as well as domesticity vs. victimhood, and engages in brilliant, genuinely original and highly creative discussion of first rate texts. Her engagingly accessible writing and brilliant and challenging argumentation takes the reader to most unexpected realms of Kristeva's and Bakhtin's theoretical apparatus, connecting the notions of Freud's vision of humor with feminist and postmodern theories. Although Niebylski focuses on fictional works of five authors, Laura Esquivel, Ana Lydia Vega, Luisa Valenzuela, Armonía Somers and Alicia Borinsky, all rooted and living in different national locations, her discussion offers a useful and suggestive typology of textual strategies of feminine and feminist comic mechanisms that transgresses the national, as well as borders of genre.

Niebylski's book consists of an introduction, a theoretical first chapter that draws on the relationship between humor theory, cultural history, and women's embodied humor, five additional chapters on individual narratives that exemplify a diversity of strategies of feminist survival and subversion, an epilogue and an extensive, well researched bibliography. Before entering the realm of specific fictional texts, Niebylski establishes the connection between the comic and the feminine, with a particular emphasis on the humor theory and the changing cultural attitudes towards the female bodily "humors." In that sense, she posits the female body, traditionally framed by patriarchy through numerous prejudices and prohibitions, in the center of her later discussion. After having identified a problem, Niebylski gives a critical overview of the ways in which the contemporary women writers have approached the literary minefield in which they have found themselves. Therefore, she theorizes the incontinent, oversexed, provocative, torpid, infected, anarchic and mutating bodies. Her writing is full of unanticipated twists and turns, and in the end, the reader is left with a richer understanding, provoked and stimulated to carry out further research.

The five chapters in which Niebylski persuasively engages in a nuanced analysis of selected Latin American women authors is also a prime resource, if not an arsenal, of comic weaponry. And so, the reader is faced with a sentimental comedy of Laura Esquivel's Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate), the carnevalesque lustfulness of Ana Lydia Vega's "Pasión de historia" ("Red Hot Story"), with a comic, often burlesque irony [End Page 314] of Luisa Valenzuela's Realidad nacional desde la cama (Bedside Manners), black humor of Armonia Somer's Sólo los elefantes encuentran mandragora (Only Elephants Find Mandrake))—the only one of works studied that is still awaiting its translation from Spanish)—and campy farce of Alicia Borinsky's Cine continuado (All Night Movie).

Humoring Resistance: Laughter and the Excessive Body in Latin American Women's Fiction is a unique study of great importance for those interested in strategies imployed by women authors towards overcoming patriarchal censorship. It is a serious book about the humor and female agency that have helped frame as well as advance and re-vitalize a very important and neglected discussion in feminist scholarship. Niebylski's fresh approach is characteristically complex and her intelligence in palpable in every one of the chapters. The book is written with clarity and passion and it stands out as one of the most valuable explorations in the topic of humor in recent Latin American criticism.

Ksenija Bilbija
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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