In his latest collection of essays Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim David Sedaris writes of his mother:
She was the sort of person who could talk to anyone, not in the pointed, investigative manner that the situation called for, but generally, casually. Had she been sent to interview Charles Manson, she might have come away saying, -˜I never knew he liked bamboo!’ It was maddening.
Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim is Sedaris’s fifth collection of essays; he also writes plays for his comedienne sister Amy. On the laughometer, Dress Your Family is not quite as hilarious as his last collection Me Talk Pretty One Day, but it’s still a delight. Like Augusten Burroughs, Sedaris milks laughs from the adventures of his family, although Sedaris’s own life is less obviously bizarre.
For example, Sedaris discovers, much to his horror, that his sister has no problem talking to people on the phone while sitting on the toilet. How do you explain the noise? he asks.
My sister held an imaginary phone to her mouth. Then she scrunched up her face and adopted the strained, broken voice commonly associated with heavy lifting. -˜I say, -˜Don’t mind me. I’m just trying to get the -¦ lid off this -¦ jar.’
Invited to a slumber party at the age of 13 with boys more interested in cars and sports than our hero, Sedaris writes:
The talk started the moment I walked through the door, and while pretending to listen, I wished that I could have been more honest. -˜What is the actual point of football?’ I wanted to ask. -˜Is a V8 engine related in any way to the juice?’
Reviewers regularly compare him to Woody Allen, Oscar Wilde, Jerry Seinfeld and Dorothy Parker -“ and they’re right and wrong. Yes, he shares the pain of Woody Allen’s dorky outsider. Like Dorothy Parker, he successfully captures the painful balance of being observer and participant in life’s embarrassments. He’s no queen of paradox like Oscar Wilde, but he’s at least homosexual.
Sedaris is best described as the queer spiritual cousin of Jerry Seinfeld but with a nastier edge. He proves that observational comedy can still inspire and amuse, and mostly, but not always, Sedaris’s writings fit the Seinfeld manifesto: no hugs and no learning. Sedaris’s one-time crystal meth addiction is devastating, but mostly because it inspires a raft of performance art that includes frying a skillet of plastic soldiers and pouring a milkshake over his head.
He’s also, according to all reports, more like a stand-up comic than an author forced to read aloud, which can often be disastrous. Fans should book now and the uninitiated should start with the essay Full House, perhaps while on the toilet, opening a jar.
INFO: David Sedaris will be appearing at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on 21, 22 and 23 May. Visit www.swf.org.au or phone 9250 1999 for bookings.