A few years back I caught David Sedaris on The Late Show. Letterman asked him if he would like to read an excerpt from his then-current book, Me Talk Pretty One Day. It was the first ever reading on The Late Show. I forget the passage that Sedaris read, but I remember thinking that it was really funny and deciding that I would read the book. From there I hopped around his bibliography, with no particular design or order.
While I remember enjoying Me Talk Pretty One Day – it was good enough to make me want to read more by Sedaris – it is not my favorite of his. Naked and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim are vying for that position. Invariably, the essays that I find the most enjoyable are the ones that involve Sedaris childhood, and as a logical extension, his family. And essays of this nature are in abundance in both Naked and Dress Your Family. The interaction between young Sedaris and his siblings, especially Amy and Lisa, never fails to make me laugh.
In the essay “True Detective”, Sedaris describes how his mom and his older sister, Lisa, would watch detective shows on TV and then try to put what they had learned from these boobtube gumshoes to use, attempting to solve real crimes they came across in the local paper. “‘We know that the girl was held at knifepoint on the second floor of her house,’ Lisa said, tapping the pencil against her forehead. ‘So probably the person who robbed her was…not in a…wheelchair.’” Sedaris describes the fictional detective world that his sister and mother were so enamored with as, “a world of obvious suspects. Looking for the axe murderer? Try the emotionally disturbed lumberjack loitering near the tool shed behind the victim’s house. Who kidnapped the guidance counselor? Perhaps it’s the thirty-year-old tenth-grader with the gym bag full of bloody rope.”
Although I find Sedaris’ essays hilarious, I would not necessarily describe them as laugh-out-loud funny. There is a difference between Sedaris’ writing and that of Michael J. Nelson, and even Paul Feig. The humor in Sedaris’ essays builds slowly. Sedaris doesn’t rely on jokes or oneliners, but rather uses his cunning wit and vocabulary to describe the situations that he gets himself into. “Painfully humorous” is an apt way to describe his style. Sedaris mines humor in fairly serious situations such as, a horribly racist speech given by one of his grade school teachers when it was announced that their school would be integrated, a prostitute being beaten up a few days before Christmas, and even his mother’s death.
Sedaris is a excellent writer and a top-shelf humorist. I hope that he releases another book before I read Barrel Fever, thus exhausting his current oeuvre.