He’s going to vanish when people least expect it. He’s going to disappear right under their noses.
So many comedians use humor to cope with disastrous childhoods or difficult lives. There isn’t any reason to assume those who make us laugh are always happy themselves. In The Last Laugh of Édouard Bresson, famed, unrivaled and beloved French comic Édouard Bresson decides to pull the biggest joke of all, to vanish, only no one will really be left laughing. Despite his popularity and love amongst fans, to his ex-wife and son he is a distant star, bright in brilliance but impossible to touch. He is a hero to his brother Jonathan, the true reason for the birth of his gift of laughter to the world. It is the most heart-breaking and tender part of the novel, the accident that befalls the brothers and the last damage.
Once Édouard Bresson decides to stop showing houses and strive for his dream, his career takes off but Magda and young son Arthur are always left behind with the empty space a husband and father is meant to occupy. While he is on month-long tours, time seems to pass quickly, but not for his small family left waiting for when or if he will ever return. When he is around, he pushes his son to forget about grades and throw himself into theater, whether he has a gift or yearning for the arts or not. There is nothing but no shows and disappointments between father and son, leading to the present day estrangement. Wife Magda learned to get used to his absence, to no longer miss him. The people who were meant to be the closest, most beloved to Édouard have been made strangers, by his own doing, wrapped in his all consuming need for perfection in his career. Marriage ends, Magda moves on.
It is his belief that not everyone can go back, he certainly isn’t one to naively believe in the much touted ‘it’s never to late to make things right’. His final act will shock the world, but it’s his last letter, instructions to a puzzle and treasure hunt for the son he loved dearly, but could never show up for. Arthur doesn’t have much enthusiasm for the quest. Despite yearning in his youth for his father’s love and attention, time proved he was never going to get it. There is a numbness inside of Arthur about the tragic turn of events, a treasure hunt feels ridiculously childish. All his memories are cold, proving only his father was indifferent towards him. But with the hunt, he will meet people and find out his father was a completely different man than the one he imagined, far more humble about his life than someone hungry for fame. Édouard Bresson’s childhood wasn’t full of the joy he later gave the world, living with a father who was a brute, unkind about his son’s flaw. There is so much more for him to learn and maybe it is a chance for him to forgive. But in the tenderness there is also bitterness. “My father has always had a gift for bringing out the worst, meanest version of me.” It comes to light that his father may have been there all along, behind the scenes.
It is a sad story but far more realistic than happy endings we often get. Disappearing was the only way he could become real to his son, but there is nothing funny about it. Lovely.
Publication Date: August 7, 2018