08 July 2008

Engulfed in flames

I’ve been reading the new David Sedaris book of essays and am sorry to say that I haven’t been enjoying it much at all. There is something vaguely lacklustre about the whole thing, which isn’t what I’ve come to expect from a guy who can write eloquently about his brother’s shit-eating dog or his father’s strange relationship with rotting produce.

Until now, I hadn’t been able to pinpoint the nature of what it is I’ve taken issue with. But I think it has to do with the fact that, for whatever reason, Sedaris has chosen to forego his literary flair in favour of pared-down character sketches, which he confusingly renders in wooden prose.

The reason I typically enjoy his essays isn’t because I believe Sedaris has lead a more interesting life than the average person, or because I want to discover about various human eccentricities. I mean: these things help if you’re going to weave a good yarn out of personal experience, certainly.

But the facts are not in themselves enough to make a reader believe in the story: it’s how a writer selectively isolates certain aspects of experience, repurposing them in a way that reaffirms what we know about him/her, or even challenging our very notions of that authority, and revealing yet another facet of a protagonist we've come to love and trust (or despise and revile, as is sometimes the case).

Nobody wants a regurgitation of the facts, because facts exist all around us, and to a nauseating degree. What we crave is for someone to animate these – a storyteller who can revive the dried up old clay of trivia in order to illustrate their worldview, thereby putting us back in touch with our own sleepy subjectives.

It seems like Sedaris either forgot how to be himself, or is simply too afraid of offending the people he writes about, opting instead for the safe bet of telling it like he thinks we think it is; perhaps even adding another layer of varnish to the hardened abortions of memory before tossing them back into the kiln.

That sounds a bit harsh, actually. But I just wanted to love this book and am so disappointed.


Lacking said...

I've been avoiding it for that very reason. His best book actually didn't do as well as the others, and I prefer to keep it as my favorite. -B-

Anonymous said...

Which was your favourite, B? I think there were two that had me in stitches, but I can't recall which now.

I haven't read any reviews, but the jacket says something about 'most hilarous ever' as though it's the sequal to another Steve Martin family comedy. Just plain sad, it is.

Anonymous said...

I read it while on vacation and had a similar reaction. I think "Dress Your Family..." was worse, though. Oh David, why has thou forsaken us?

What did you think of the Lynda Barry book?

Lacking said...

Dress Your Family was my favorite *loL*. Maybe that means I'll ike the new one. I didn't care for Naked at all. I also like Me Talk Pretty One Day, just for the bitchy french teacher.

Anonymous said...

You know, I think that's the one I really liked as well. But I'm convinced this new one marks a turning point in his writing altogether, and not for the better.