Sunday, September 30, 2012

Barrel Fever

by David Sedaris

A collection of short fiction pieces – parodies, flights of fancy bordering on the absurd, and the blackest of black-humor riffs on dysfunctional families – followed by Sedaris’ debut and best-known memoir, “SantaLand Diaries,” and a few other humorous essays.

As a great fan of Sedaris, I’ve read all of his work, and enjoyed this book the least.  As a fiction writer, Sedaris makes a damn fine essayist; I found his stories to be either too fantastic to be meaningful (“Don’s Story,” in which an obnoxious unemployed man is fawned over by Hollywood, and everyone else, for no reason at all; “Parade,” in which an obnoxious man has a series of unlikely lovers, from Charleton Heston to Mike Tyson), or simply too grim to be funny (“The Last You’ll Hear From Me,” in which a woman plans to incite violence at her funeral, “Season’s Greetings,” a truly repulsive story in which a psychotic woman kills a baby by putting it in the dryer and tries to blame it on her husband’s Vietnamese war child; “Barrel Fever,” in which a man recalls his mother’s passive-aggressive nastiness, and defends his own obnoxious behavior when drinking).

Of course there’s humor to be found in dysfunction – it’s what Sedaris made his career out of – but in fiction, Sedaris treats his demons not as things to be deflated through observation, but as therapy.  “SantaLand Diaries,” which I’ve heard before, was fantastic, and the other essays, about smoking, being an apartment cleaner in New York, and writing for a kink magazine, were good as well, but they did not make up for the sour taste the stories left.  

two stars

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