Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim

What if you could write about whatever you wanted? What if no topics were off limits, no person's feelings or privacy taken into consideration, no personal flaws purposely left unmentioned in order to be protected from ridicule?

You would probably write exactly like David Sedaris.

To actually write like David Sedaris, however, you'd also have to be intelligent, impeccably attentive to details and most importantly - uncommonly funny. With that winning combination, Sedaris's unencumbered writing creates a truly fascinating look into his life and way of thinking.

Take, for instance, a neighborhood family that supposedly doesn't watch any television. You've know them, or at least heard about them. But have you hidden yourself in bushes outside their house watching them at night? Sedaris spied on this family with fascination, watching them interact at the dinner table during the evenings and feeling sorry for the absence of television in their lives. After watching one of their children at school being left out of a joke that made reference to a TV show, Sedaris writes, "It occurred to me that they needed a guide, someone who could point out all the things they were unable to understand. I could have done it on weekends, but friendship would have taken away their mystery and interfered with the good feeling I got from pitying them. So I kept my distance."

Then, when this same family showed up for Trick-Or-Treating the day after Halloween, Sedaris expresses what must be universally believed: "Asking for candy on Halloween was called trick-or-treating, but asking for candy on November first was called begging, and it made people uncomfortable. This was one of the things you were supposed to learn simply by being alive, and it angered me that the Tomkeys did not understand it."

The subject matter varies wildly from chapter to chapter, but each contains Sedaris's hilarious spin on what would probably appear to most outsiders, nothing to write home about. Although there are several uncomfortable chapters that touch on situations involving his homosexuality, his willingness to expose himself, and, I suppose his willingness to expose his loved ones, give his writing an important and appreciated perspective. It's so enjoyably honest! I mean, he writes about going through the Anne Frank House while simultaneous apartment hunting and wanting to live there because it's "cute." Totally irreverent. But when he talks about ripping out the wood stove so that the fireplace would be the focal point and thinking the attic, with its charming dormer windows, could be his office...it ends up being really funny.

The best chapter for me was called Six To Eight Black Men when he describes in laugh-out-loud detail the Christmas traditions in the Netherlands. Of course he begins the chapter by pointing out some of the more unusual local gun laws in various states of the USA, mentioning as an interesting fact that in Michigan - blind people are allowed to hunt...alone. As the chapter nears its end, and you wonder what the two stories have to do with each other, he finishes by sharing his thoughts while sitting in a Dutch train station. "I couldn't help but feel second-rate. Yes, the Netherlands was a small country, but it had six to eight black men and a really good bedtime story. Being a fairly competitive person, I felt jealous, then bitter. I was edging toward hostile when I remembered the blind hunter tramping off alone into the Michigan forest. He may bag a deer, or he may happily shoot a camper in the stomach. He may find his way back to the car, or he may wander around for a week or two before stumbling through your back door. We don't know for sure, but in pinning that license to his chest, he inspires the sort of narrative that ultimately makes me proud to be an American."

Funny, funny stuff.

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