Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sedaris delights with early collection of short essays

Me Talk Pretty One Day, essays by David Sedaris
Little Brown and Company (2000)

Although I've read several of his essays in The New Yorker, this collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day, is my first introduction to a complete book of essays by David Sedaris.

In this collection, Sedaris discusses a range of topics, from his early years spent growing up in North Carolina and his years attending art college in Chicago to his time in New York and his eventual move to Normandy, France. His reflections on being a transplanted American living in France comprise about half of the book's content and are downright hilarious.

Sedaris is a master at taking otherwise mundane, everyday situations and interpreting them with his own style of humor and pathos. Two of my favourite stories include a short piece about crossword puzzles, and a piece about his younger sister, Amy. In reading some of these essays, I was reminded of Woody Allen and his many insecurities, foibles and neuroses. Like Allen, Sedaris views life with unblinking honesty and a wilful naiveté, and seems not quite at home in the modern world.

These essays are thoughtful, sad, funny, and highly entertaining. Sedaris is at his best when he describes his own family and his interactions with parents and siblings. He's also hilarious at poking fun at himself and his perceived shortcomings, as evidenced in this passage where he tries to understand the inner workings of a television and an air conditioner:
 "To this day, I prefer to believe that inside every television there lives a community of versatile, thumb-size actors trained to portray everything from a thoughtful newscaster to the wife of a millionaire stranded on a desert island. Fickle gnomes control the weather, and an air conditioner is powered by a team of squirrels, their cheeks packed with ice cubes. 
These slice-of-life stories are quick and easy to digest. I found myself laughing aloud several times at some witty comment or keen observation about the people and situations Sedaris describes.

It takes a special talent to craft mediocre situations into art that has universal appeal, and Sedaris has that talent in spades.