Salivating for Satire
June 19, 2013 8:54 PM   Subscribe

Can you point me toward good satirical fiction?

Thanks to the wonder and horror of American society, I've been inspired lately by lots of ideas for potential satirical short fiction. I'm a little rusty on the style, however, and would love to read up on some quality satire to see if I can study the mechanics a bit. I read regularly but for whatever reason find concentrated satire to be in short supply--it occasionally shows up in short passages of otherwise serious literary fiction (thinking of elements of Franzen, for example).

What are some well-written examples of satire I might be missing? No limit on time period or content necessary, though I particularly like semi-modern social/political stuff. Also open to good, serious books that execute elements of satire particularly well.

A couple examples of satire I've read and loved:
-Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
-Anything Jane Austen

Mainly looking for:
-High quality of writing
-Sharpness of observations and cleverness of execution

Patently not looking for Tao Lin or Tao Lin-like authors.
posted by aintthattheway to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
posted by matildaben at 8:57 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jonathan Swift
posted by empath at 9:05 PM on June 19, 2013

The Illuminatus Trilogy is a great piss-take on conspiracy theory and politics from the late 60s/early 70s.
posted by empath at 9:06 PM on June 19, 2013

Christopher Buckley.

I especially enjoyed Thank You For Smoking, Little Green Men, and Boomsday!.

(It's safe to assume that Vonnegut doesn't need to be recommended, right?)
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:16 PM on June 19, 2013

Chapter Four of The Gift is an extended satire of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, a Russian political writer of the 19th century; one chapter of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight eviscerates Sebastian Knight's previous biographer, who exemplifies kitschy criticism of the thirties and forties.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:18 PM on June 19, 2013

Syrup by Max Barry
posted by fuse theorem at 9:18 PM on June 19, 2013

Some favorites:

Masters of Atlantis, by the guy who wrote "True Grit."

Elmer Gantry!

Decline and Fall.
posted by steinsaltz at 9:42 PM on June 19, 2013

David Lodge
Tom Sharpe

+ nthing Evelyn Waugh
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:56 PM on June 19, 2013

Not modern, but I love Candide by Voltaire. Also, the story of Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rebalais and some short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

(Also assuming you know about George Orwell)
posted by triggerfinger at 9:56 PM on June 19, 2013

You said short and this is the opposite, and might be closer to farce than satire, but Freddy and Fredericka is long, sharp, and hilarious. The audiobook (all 30+ hours) is so beloved in our house that we'll just put it on in random spots sometimes.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:58 PM on June 19, 2013

Pretty much anything by Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:07 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Although not set in modern times, Prachett's Discworld novels have become incredibly sharp satire of modern politics and culture. Monstrous Regiment is a good place to start. Charming and funny on top, brutal satire underneath.

And n'thing Vonnegut's entire catalog.
posted by Ookseer at 10:17 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Animal Farm

Can't believe no-one's said that...
posted by pompomtom at 12:21 AM on June 20, 2013

I adore Cold Comfort Farm.
posted by nerdfish at 2:39 AM on June 20, 2013

Confederacy of Dunces, 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction: Its central character, Ignatius J. Reilly, is an educated but slothful 30-year-old man living with his mother in the Uptown neighborhood of early-1960s New Orleans who, in his quest for employment, has various adventures with colorful French Quarter characters. Considered one of the funniest books ever written.

Anything by Woody Allen, SJ Perelman, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber.

David Sedaris, Garrison Keillor.

Mark Twain.

Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat is also considered one of the funniest books ever written.
posted by kinetic at 3:42 AM on June 20, 2013

Carl Hiaasen might be America's best-selling living satirist. He's great.

Gore Vidal's Duluth is a satire of Reagan-era America. It's short and very funny.

I also second steinsaltz's suggestion of Decline and Fall.

But my favorite satire (and possibly my favorite book) is probably John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor: Or, a Voyage to Maryland. A Satyr. In which is describ'd, the Laws, Government, Courts and Constitutions of the Country; and also the Buildings, Feats, Frolics, Entertainments and Drunken Humours of the Inhabitants of that Part of America. It's the story of Ebeneezer Cooke, poet laureate of Maryland in the late seventeenth century, and the adventures he goes through in writing his epic "Marylandiad." Good god is that book incredible.

A sample chapter title: "The Laureate is Exposed to Two Assassinations of Character, a Piracy, a Near-Deflowering, a Near-Mutiny, a Murder and an Appalling Colloquy Between Captains of the Sea, All Within the Space of a Few Pages." As you might be able to tell, the book doesn't really satisfy your criterion that the fiction be short.
posted by painquale at 3:45 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

P. J. O'Rourke is a good contemporary satirist.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:28 AM on June 20, 2013

You've probably read George Saunders, but if not you should.
posted by dekathelon at 11:13 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Endorsing Jerome K Jerome; having read and reread Three Men in a Boat, I've just found Three Men on the Bummel which is, if anything, more satirical still. And very funny. Ditto Cold Comfort Farm.

Also Saki wrote biting short stories. The Wikipedia page has links at the bottom to his works on Project Gutenberg etc.

And Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate are comedies, tragedies, romances and (I think) biting satire and sincere all at once, though not strictly defined as satire.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:41 PM on June 20, 2013

Seconding Carl Hiaasen. Don't let the fact that he's also nominally a crime novelist (or that Hollywood has done him wrong in its adaptations) turn you off. Stormy Weather is piss your pants funny, with harsh words for... more than I could list.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:10 PM on June 20, 2013

Evelyn Waugh. Vile Bodies is wonderful, biting satire. Funny as hell and sad as hell. Other of his stuff, too.
posted by primate moon at 9:19 PM on June 20, 2013

Let me second David Lodge, particularly his earlier stuff. Small World comes to mind as a good example of his funnier stuff.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:40 PM on June 23, 2013

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