Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris; a Book Review

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.

Murder the Others.

I’ve randomly stumbled upon this amazing book trailer. It’s interactive in that you have to click to keep the story moving, but it slowly (or quickly, depending on how fast you click/read) reveals the heard-before tale of aspiring writers arriving in New York filled with excitement, ambition and a little bit of naivety, only to soon be downtrodden by all the other ‘Been There’ writers out there. This trailer reminds writers to WRITE YOUR STORY, to keep a fierce hold of your naivety, and to ignore all those intent on bringing you down.

Failing that, just murder them.

It turns out that this trailer is for a book called Judging a Book by its Lover which has now been put on the top of my Amazon Wishlist and which I hope someone buys me real soon.

Book Review: Care of Wooden Floors – Will Wiles

Oskar has OCD. A severe case of OCD. He is a successful composer living in an unnamed Eastern European city with his two cats and his wife. Right now he is in LA in the midst of a divorce, entrusting his old university friend to look after his pristine apartment, feed the cats, and LOOK AFTER THE WOODEN FLOORS. This book is about that friend; the unnamed English narrator.

It appears that Oskar has left his apartment in the hands of someone he doesn’t have faith in, ‘mapping out disaster scenarios in his mind and writing notes to cover the possibilities.’ He seriously does leave lengthy, instructive notes EVERYWHERE, even in the most unexpected of places, like amongst a stash of porn underneath his bed (You should respect my privacy. But I expected you to poke about a bit. See: we are all human. Clean up after yourself. Oskar). And it is through these notes and the actual apartment itself that you learn so much about Oskar; a man who values precision and order:

‘People say that it’s difficult, disorderly, to live with cats. I have never found them troublesome. People are the source of all chaos in life.’

So what could possibly go wrong, you say. Well just about everything.

Right from the start, the reader is certain that something bad is going to happen, that the narrator is going to mess things up in some way, but we’re just not sure quite how, and this sets up the tension that remains for the duration of the book. And sure enough, once things start to go wrong, they appear to just spiral out of control, from bad to worse, taking on almost farcical proportions.

As much as Oskar may have annoyed me with his pedantry, I was even more annoyed at the narrator for his carelessness and lack of foresight. I just kept putting myself in his shoes, and despite me also being quite an untidy person, found that I would not behave in the same way that he had. This really got me thinking about our personal spaces as humans and how they really define who we are. Much of who Oskar is is reflected in the minimalist precision of his apartment, whilst the mouldy walls of the narrator’s London flat tells you most of what you need to know:

‘A room is not just a room. A room is a manifestation of a state of mind, the product of an intelligence. Either conscious or unconscious. We make our rooms, and then our rooms make us.’

This book is as much about floors and space as it is about friendship. The friendship between the two men isn’t a natural or easy one, and is certainly not one based on mutual interests. As events unfold in the apartment and ‘an isolated tragedy’ almost becomes ‘a campaign of wrecking’, we come to understand that this may not be a friendship that can be saved:

‘I like that he seems to like me despite the fact that there’s no reason he should like me; at least, no reason that I can see. You know, he makes me believe I have likeable qualities. And maybe that’s what I do for him. I think that mutual reassurance is probably a big component of all friendships, really.’

The book is laced with dark humour and did have me chuckling to myself on occasion though I have to admit that as I progressed through the novel, I reached a point where I just wanted the book to end. I grew quite impatient with all the highly detailed descriptions and just wanted to know what would happen in the end. Though I was blown away by the language in some of his descriptive passages, I would have gladly exchanged those for some actual plot on occasion.

This is quite an accomplished novel for a debut, and the interesting twist at the end of the book keeps the whole thing quite fresh and original. I’d definitely be interested in seeing more from Will Wiles.