[BOOK REVIEW]Maturity softens edges of humorHumorist David Sedaris is back with another book of essays, and here’s hoping that his life will always be full of anecdotes so that readers will get more books like “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.”
His latest offering, released this past summer, lacks the snarky bite of his earlier books, but it’s his most mature work yet. His musings about his life experiences are more contemplative than in the past but still retain his trademark humor.
He starts off by revisiting his childhood in North Carolina in “Us and Them,” about a neighboring family, the Tomkeys, who didn’t own a TV. Their apparent disconnection from reality evoked pity in the young David Sedaris, but that all ended the night after one Halloween, when the Tomkeys turned up on the Sedaris family’s doorstep, the kids dressed in full costume.
They explained that they had been out of town for Halloween, so they were making up for it. The author’s mother, not wanting to hurt the Tomkeys’ feelings, tells her kids to get “the other candy,” meaning their candy.
Anyone who recalls the greed that Halloween candy generates can understand what Mr. Sedaris did next ― he stuffed all his sweets down his gullet as fast as possible rather than give them away, to his mother’s disgust.
His quirky family provides plenty of fodder for stories, as usual. For example, “Rooster at the Hitchin’ Post” is full of affection as Mr. Sedaris describes his foul-mouthed younger brother’s wedding in North Carolina, complete with a psychic officiator and a canine flower girl.
After the main festivities, alone with Paul, Mr. Sedaris is about ready to say something heartfelt, but is thwarted after his brother shows him a trick he taught his Great Dane, one that ensures he’ll never have to pick up after his other dog again.
“I thought of my brother standing in his backyard and training a dog to eat s― and realized I’d probably continue thinking about it until the day I die. Forget the tears and brotherly speeches, this was the stuff that memories are made of,” Mr. Sedaris writes.
The mellowness evident in this book is probably partly due to his long-term relationship with his boyfriend, Hugh, with whom he lives in Paris. But true to form, he mines that for humor as well, such as in “Who’s the Chef?”
After he bickers with Hugh at a dinner party about whether Mr. Sedaris’s chef (French word for “boss”) had a plastic or rubber prosthetic hand, he muses: “The argument would continue until one of us died, and even then it would manage to wage on. If I went first, my tombstone would read IT WAS RUBBER. He’d likely take the adjacent plot and buy a larger tombstone reading NO, IT WAS PLASTIC.”
He doesn’t gloss over his friends’ and family’s foibles, or his own for that matter, but it’s never ugly. And his affection for his family is never precious, saving us from cheap sentimentality.
Dress Your Family
in Corduroy and Denim
By David Sedaris
Little, Brown and Company
19,500 won ($17) at Kyobo
by Sei Chong