Little-known American humorist David Sedaris was a popular guest at this year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival, attracting a sell-out crowd that surprised even the author himself. He needn’t have been shocked, because Sedaris’s oh-so-dry prose seems decidedly un-American and more attuned to an Australian comic aesthetic. His volume of essays Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim is a great choice for Christmas, as Sedaris catalogues in grim detail his relationship with his family. There’s brother Paul, who trained his Great Dane to eat its own faeces; and sister Lisa, who taught her pet parrot to be an emotional cheerleader, squawking We love you, Lisa! and You can do it. Then there’s David’s boyfriend Hugh, whom he can’t profess love to without talking through hand puppets. There are few gags and fewer punchlines, but Sedaris’ brand of observational comedy succeeds because the essays are grounded in aching resignation and pathos. Consider the pain excerpted below, as David recalls a particularly hurtful childhood slumber party.

Review: Tim Benzie

She and her husband lumbered up the stairs, and when Walt felt certain that they were asleep, he pounced on Dale Gummerson, shouting Titty twister! Brad Clancy joined in, and when they had finished, Dale raised his shirt, revealing nipples as crimped and ruddy as the pepperoni slices littering the forsaken pizza box. Oh my God, I said, realizing too late that this made me sound like a girl. The appropriate response was to laugh at Dale’s misfortune, not to flutter your hands in front of your face, screeching, What have they done to your poor nipples! Shouldn’t we put some ice on them? Walt picked up on this immediately. Did you just say you wanted to put ice on Dale’s nipples? Well, not me personally, I said. I meant, you know, generally. As a group. Or Dale could do it himself if he felt like it. Walt’s eyes wandered from my face to my chest, and then the entire slumber party was upon me -¦ Walt latched onto my nipples, twisting back and forth as if they were a set of particularly stubborn toggle bolts. Now who needs ice! he said. Now who thinks he’s the goddamn school nurse.

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