Reading this new collection of memoir-essay-stories by the master US humourist David Sedaris is like being tickled on the ribs by someone you love: you laugh hysterically, feel a mixture of excitement and irritation, and instinctively wriggle away as exhaustion sets in. Sedaris writes about his everyday life, the co-stars being his family, partner Hugh, friends and neighbours. Every one of these 22 essays has something unique and extraordinary to offer: what we have come to expect from a writer a previous reviewer said "can make Woody Allen appear ham-tongued, Oscar Wilde a drag". In this collection, the black comedy that has always been a vital part of his writing comes fully to the fore. These are dark, visceral essays that look unflinchingly at the vulnerable ageing body and at death.
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Reading this new collection of memoir-essay-stories by the master US humourist David Sedaris is like being tickled on the ribs by someone you love: you laugh hysterically, feel a mixture of excitement and irritation, and instinctively wriggle away as exhaustion sets in.
Sedaris writes about his everyday life, the co-stars being his family, partner Hugh, friends and neighbours. Every one of these 22 essays has something unique and extraordinary to offer: what we have come to expect from a writer a previous reviewer said "can make Woody Allen appear ham-tongued, Oscar Wilde a drag".
In this collection, the black comedy that has always been a vital part of his writing comes fully to the fore. These are dark, visceral essays that look unflinchingly at the vulnerable ageing body and at death. It's amazing that Sedaris manages to make witnessing an autopsy so funny. Highlights are an account of living next to a foul-mouthed elderly woman in New York who, when Sedaris meets her, tells him, "mess with me, and I'll stick my foot so far up your ass I'll lose my shoe".
In another, Sedaris argues with a woman he is sitting next to on a plane and then sneezes while she is asleep, sending a cough sweet shooting into her lap. He writes best about acute embarrassment and seems to enjoy humiliating himself. He describes the Stadium Pal, an external catheter that enables sports spectators and truck drivers to urinate into a tube and then collect the urine in a bag. He tries it, but admits that peeing while checking into a hotel or discussing his drinks order with a flight attendant isn't easy.
Sedaris has now entered middle age, which perhaps partially explains why in these essays he weaves the past and the present more loosely: everything is getting a bit mixed up. His neighbour in Paris reminds him of an incident in his childhood, which in turn reminds him of an old New York friend. Many stories have a loose, associative structure more akin to the diary or daydream than the perfectly crafted jewels of his other collections.
Once you've stopped laughing at his accounts of making coffee from the stale water in a vase after his water is cut off, or his failed attempt to tame a house spider, you're left with a much more colourful picture of the little tragedies at work in the everyday.
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When You Are Engulfed In Flames
When You Are Engulfed in Flames
He was in his 30s when he was discovered by Ira Glass of NPR, and ever since he has presented himself as a childish genius perpetually late to the literary scene and forever mini-crisis prone. As usual, Sedaris has lots of answers to the first question but not many to the second in this delightful compilation of essays circling the theme of death and dying, with nods to the French countryside, art collecting and feces. The main stage is occupied by a mix of highly pixelated memories, chance meetings with freaks and scenes of Sedaris fretting over his eventual demise. A punk-rock attitude toward death used to be a staple of Sedariana, one of many taboo subjects he enjoyed throwing in the face of the squares, like his crystal meth addiction. The trick-or-treater may not be struck down on Halloween, but sooner or later he is going to get it, as am I, and everyone I have ever cared about. With Sedaris in this state of mind, the centerpiece of the book should have been an obvious gimme: a diary of his quest to quit smoking.