After a funeral on Long Island not too long ago, the author Anthony Marra and his family gathered somberly at the grave site for the burial. But there was a moment of unexpected slapstick when an older relative began to fret about the graveyard’s confusing layout. Suddenly she yelled in a thick New York accent: “How the hell do I get out of here?”
It was a small example of one of Marra’s favorite preoccupations in fiction: the thin line between the tragic and the comic, how they dance with and undercut each other. The author of two much-loved, much-praised books set in the former Soviet Union — a novel, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” (2013), and a set of interconnected short stories, “The Tsar of Love and Techno” (2015) — Marra takes an unsentimental view of the cruelty of fate, with a keen eye for the ridiculous.
“I grew up among people who made jokes at serious moments,” he said. “Comedy has always felt like the most eloquent expression of absurdity, a natural reaction to darkness.”