Square8739Daniel Green at The Quarterly Conversation:

Friedman’s work is most often considered as a contribution to the emergence of “black humor” in American fiction, but his first novel, Stern (1962), could at the time have easily enough been regarded as absurdist, an existential comedy about the angst of Jewish assimilation. The novel’s title character finds himself in alien territory—the American suburbs—confused and beset by a series of humiliations he struggles to understand. The story of his misadventures is funny, but in the way the plays of Beckett and Ionesco are funny, in a detached and deadpan manner that can also be disconcerting. The same is true of Friedman’s second novel, A Mother’s Kisses (1964), although here the subject, a meddling Jewish mother, is more conventionally “comedic” in its overtones. In this novel the humor comes from the straight-faced way in which the narrator relates his mother’s speech and actions, as if it is simply expected in the ordinary course of things for a mother to say outrageous and embarrassing things and behave erratically enough that she would fly with her son to Kansas on his first day of college and remain with him for several weeks as he adjusts to the place, staying in a hotel room the two occupy together.

By the time Friedman published A Mother’s Kisses, this sort of unadulterated comedy delivered in an impassive tone had come to be called black humor. Indeed, Friedman himself edited an influential anthology of black humor fiction that did much to delineate and draw attention to this newly prominent mode of fiction (not literally new, since Friedman traces it as far back as Gogol, and one of the included writers is Céline). Friedman doesn’t insist on too strict a definition of black humor, just that “the work under discussion, if not black, is some fairly dark-hued color,” while “the humor part of the definition is probably accurate although I doubt that the writers are bluff and hearty joke-tellers who spend a lot of time at discotheques.”

more here.