David Sedaris, 2008, 323 p.
(I’ve read that he sometimes draws little pictures under his autograph at book signings. Isn’t that fun)?
David Sedaris makes me sad. He makes me feel all puffy and angsty and a little depressed. I don’t believe this is the typical reader’s response to his humorous slice-of-life essays, but, then, I’m not a typical reader. No matter the subject, there’s often an underlying air of melancholy in his tales that appeals to my marshmallow side. He’s a humane satirist, and the way he views the world is both unique and familiar. I’ll bet that’s why he’s so well liked–he’s one of us, but he’s also very much himself. And boy, Sedaris is really popular! He sells out Carnegie Hall. He’s the most popular presenter on radio’s “This American Life.” When Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim was published, David appeared on CNN and Letterman, and a Manhattan bookstore was so mobbed during one of his signings that it took many hours for his die-hard fans to make it to the front of the line. I think he’s probably the most beloved American humor writer since Twain.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames showcases a more mature and more irritable Sedaris. There were a few instances when I thought that he was a little over-the-top with his intolerance and crankiness. Don’t get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoyed …Flames, but cripes, David, take a chill-pill every once in awhile! Your misanthropy is showing more than ever!
As is the case with every Sedaris book I’ve read, some stories worked better for me than others. That’s the way it is with humor, though, it can’t possibly satisfy everyone. I suspect that humorists feel successful if they can amuse around 50% of their audience at any given point in time. So, I approached When You Are Engulfed in Flames with a realistic attitude based upon my past relationship with Mr. Sedaris’ writing.
I must say that many of the vignettes in …Flames are quite a bit darker than the pieces in Sedaris’ other books. I like that, though, since I have a bit of a morbid side. My favorite essay out of the entire bunch is entitled “Memento Mori.” In this trip down memory lane, Sedaris writes about a full-sized human skeleton he bought for Hugh’s (his longtime companion’s) birthday. Hugh is an artist and wanted to own the real thing to use as a reference. The live-in skeleton gradually works his way into David’s subconscious and repeats this litany: “You are going to die. You are going to die. You are going to die.” At the end of this story, David begs him to stop, so the skeleton changes it just a tad and says, “You are going to be dead…some day.”
I also enjoyed the part about quitting smoking, although I wonder if lifetime non-smokers will appreciate this portion of the book quite as much as I did. As a rule, non-smokers have a hard time understanding how completely satisfying and beautiful smoking can be. Even after many years of living smoke-free, I sometimes develop intense cravings, and it’s all I can do to keep myself from running to the nearest 7-11 to purchase a pack. I don’t think this addiction will ever completely go away.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames is both more bittersweet and more rancorous than Sedaris’ previous collections. He’s looking at the flip-side of fifty, so I think his perceptions have changed a bit. …Flames is a darker and deeper look at life in the David lane, and while it ain’t always pretty, it’s nearly always pretty witty.
I’d like to give this copy away. If you want it, leave a comment, and I’ll say eenie-meenie-miney-mo on Friday, November 21st.