David Sedaris, one of the most celebrated literary humorists in the country, has done it again. With his witty humor and bitter tone, Sedaris introduces us to the most hysterical and the most personal part of his past – his family.
“Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim,” his most recent recipe for success, is a concoction of his childhood memories and adolescent embarrassments, with a splash of mom and dad and a taste of his brother and sisters. Sedaris himself boasts, “Their personal lives are the so-called pieces of scrap I usually pick up, and they’re sick of it. More and more of their stories begin with the line, ‘You have to swear you will never repeat this.'” Thankfully, their requests for anonymity are ignored, and Sedaris has compiled 22 short stories, all equally pee-your-pants funny.
Sedaris paints a detailed picture of his childhood self through his search for sexuality and into his mature adult life with partner Hugh. Sedaris established himself as a childhood outsider in earlier books, recounting tales of speech classes to eradicate his lisp and describing his obsessive compulsive disorder which drove him to lick doorknobs and tap people’s heads. His latest bestseller revisits the awkward childhood theme by describing his eagerness to be included by the popular group at school. But Sedaris does not commemorate their omnipotence with generic tales of mean kids stuffing nerds into lockers.
“So complete was their power,” he writes, ” that I actually felt honored when one of them hit me in the mouth with a rock.” Unable to defend himself, Sedaris remarks, “Boys who spent their weekends making banana nut muffins did not, as a rule, excel in the art of hand-to-hand combat.”
He recounts being kicked out of the house by his father and his shuffle from sibling to sibling and city to city. Looking for work in New York, he takes on a makeshift profession as an apartment cleaner. But this dream-career takes a turn for the worst when an elderly client asks Sedaris for the most obscure of favors – to help him insert a suppository.
“(I was) horrified by this suppository incident,” Sedaris says. “But in retrospect I saw it as an adventure.”
He finally abandons his vacuum cleaner and dustpan when a client confuses the heroic-house-maid with an erotic housecleaning service.
One of the most memorable stories is of man versus mouse. After finding a mouse trapped in his attic, the sensitive Sedaris cannot bring himself to leave the rodent for dead. Instead, he attempts to rescue the critter, leaving him quadriplegic and in even more pain. In what he thinks is a sympathetic solution to the problem, Sedaris proceeds to drown the dying mouse in a bucket on his front porch, just as a car full of tourists pass by for directions.
One story at a time, Sedaris presents to us the story of his life, intertwined with the various characters that we come to know as his family. To use a Sedaris metaphor, his writing is “a Whitman’s sampler; he seemed to offer a little bit of everything.” Sedaris is able to tackle the most fragile of subjects without compromising the sarcastic and dry humor for which he is renowned. But beneath his dark style, we can uncover sensitivity and concern that draws us into these intimate situations. As he writes himself, “At the risk of sounding too koombaya, I felt as if I had finally come home.”