Monday, July 30, 2012

When You Are Engulfed In Flames

by David Sedaris

Another collection of humorous essays and ruminations by NPR’s most beloved gay expatriate memoirist.  He talks about his travels to Japan (covering previously beaten ground by taking language classes, as he did in France); his visit to a medical examiner’s office (at this point in his career, it’s understandable that Sedaris has to create his own material rather than relying on reminisces or the unexpected); some first fumbling sexual explorations; his irritable, nosy, elderly New York neighbor Helen; and domestic life in Normandy.

As always, Sedaris’ writing veers from startlingly hilarious to almost poignant, then back to the absurd again.  I loved “That’s Amore,” about Helen’s near-psychotic quirks, and some of the brief pieces like “Crybaby,” in which Sedaris muses on the man next to him in first class on a plane trip, who weeps the entire time for his dead mother.  His writing skewers both the off-kilter, irrational people he meets and what he presents as his own selfish, solipsistic view of them.  The two pieces I felt were the most powerful, “All the Beauty You Will Ever Need” and “Old Faithful,” are self-deprecating, adorable, and hilarious scenes of living and growing older with his partner, Hugh.  Sedaris is a masterful essayist, and can wring more pathos out of a simple boil on his ass than most novelists can out of any number of dramatic crises. 

[read twice: 9/4/10, 7/30/12]

four stars

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