From European dentists’ offices to summer swim teams to meat-eating Australian Kookaburras, David Sedaris has a story tell. In “Attaboy”, Sedaris capitalizes on his tongue-in-cheek humor by examining the changes in society’s definition of discipline. In “A Friend in the Ghetto”, he reminisces on integration, while in “Standing Still”, he details the time his younger sister was attacked by a black man, and his father’s ultimately humorous and vaguely racist reaction to it, fueled by an iced vodka. “A Guy walks into a Bar Car” deals with trains, and the tenuous and oftentimes surprising relationships we form with strangers on them, while “A Happy Place” deals with—that’s right—colonoscopies.
David Sedaris is a comedic genius. His writing is striking, in that, it’s equal parts deftly mischievous and beautiful. You’ll finish reading a hilarious scene and come across the most astounding sentence—simple, delicate, perfectly in-place with the rest of the more boisterous piece. For example, a few lines from “A Guy Walks into a Bar Car”: “Bashir was—how to describe him? It was as if you had coaxed the eyes out of Bambi and resettled them, half asleep, into a human face. Nothing hard or ruined-looking there; in fact it was just the opposite—angelic, you might call him, pretty.”
Sedaris has a way with characterization; he allows us to know his characters—each detail that he notices, he shares with his reader. It’s because of this that you can read five or six of his essays in one sitting, wondering, dazedly, afterwards, where the time has gone. He is also quick to self-deprecate: not in a way that pushes us to feel sorry for him, but to admire his wit, more exactly, to feel closer to him, recognize him as a faulted human being just like the rest of us.
My favorite essay in the bunch has to be, “Understanding Understanding Owls”. I think it showcases what Sedaris does best—picking a striking moment, and commenting on it through vivid story telling and juxtaposition. In this essay, Sedaris wants to buy his long-time boyfriend a stuffed owl for Valentines Day. He visits a small taxidermy shop in London, and the owner takes him for a bit of a creep, in that, he shows Sedaris a severed, mummified arm and a young girl’s head. You wouldn’t think this was a romantic story in the least, but he manages to capture a modern romance at the tale-end of the story, while also making some astute remarks on how we humans oftentimes misread one another completely.
Sedaris is a humorous, thoughtful writer, with a wealth of experience that ranges from North Carolina to France, and back again. His essays are about life and its complexities; about family, and the a strained father-son relationship; and of love, ultimately, for all of the above
Reviewed by M.B. Sellers
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 6/3/2014