I finally got round to reading a book by David Sedaris and I think I’m now a bit of a convert. He is funny. That’s all there is to it. It’s a very subtle, arrogant and perhaps even slightly sinister type of humour; definitely dark, but funny nonetheless.
This is a collection of random short stories, scenes from his childhood growing up in a quirkily dysfunctional family and then later, how this family interacts and functions in the present day. As odd as it may sound, he writes with a subtle hilariousness, and it’s irresistible. It’s not the obvious slapstick kind of humour, but more of a ‘this is somewhat inappropriate and probably politically incorrect, but I’m gonna say it, and it doesn’t stop it from being funny’ kind of humour.
The book opens with a story (‘Us and Them‘) about the Tomkeys, a family who lived on David’s street growing up and who didn’t believe in TV and therefore did not own one. David believed this to be a handicap that prevented the family from being able to function normally, hence why the Tomkeys were away on Halloween weekend and thought it ok for trick-or-treating to take place on another day:
‘Asking for candy on Halloween was called trick-or-treating, but asking for candy on November first was called begging, and it made people uncomfortable. This was one of those things you were supposed to learn simply by being alive, and it angered me that the Tomkeys did not understand it.’
What I’ve come to realise makes David Sedaris so popular is that you can relate to him. While I’m not a gay man who’s up in the early hours of the morning trying to drown a mouse in a bucket, with a sister who retrieves and eats food from the trash, living in the French countryside, seeing all my real estate needs met through Anne Frank’s attic (mentally redecorating the space); I see a lot of his thought process in me. I find I can relate to the minute details as it’s in the observation of the little quirks in human behaviour and motivations that Sedaris excels.
In the story entitled ‘The End of the Affair‘, Sedaris goes to see the movie of the same name with his partner and explains why seeing romance on the big screen can make him feel insecure in his own relationship as he feels it reminds his partner that he has other options. This bit in particular made me chuckle:
‘Hugh and I have been together for so long that in order to arouse extraordinary passion, we need to engage in physical combat. Once, he hit me on the back of the head with a broken wineglass, and I fell to the floor pretending to be unconscious. That was romantic, or would have been had he rushed to my side rather than stepping over my body to fetch the dustpan.’
He captures the essence of his characters so well (like the man whose house he goes to clean but who unfortunately mistakes him for someone from the erotic house cleaning service he has also booked an appointment with) with alarmingly peculiar details that I can’t believe are actually real. As corny as it sounds, however, underneath all the funny and in the midst of all the detail is genuine love, warmth and concern.
I kind of understand why Augusten Burroughs is compared to him a lot. They are scarily similar: both gay, both have quirky/eccentric families, and both have this hilarious arrogance to their humour. I don’t think I’m doing this book much justice in this review, but it’s really difficult to pull out funny bits as it has to be understood within the framework and context of the entire story. While there are admittedly some stories in this collection that I wasn’t too keen on, and that weren’t particularly memorable, I think the collection overall is worth a read. Especially if, like me, you’ve never read any Sedaris before and have even a remote sense of humour.