A new collection from David Sedaris is cause for jubilation. His recent move to Paris has inspired hilarious pieces, including Me Talk Pretty One Day, about his attempts to learn French. His family is another inspiration. You Cant Kill the Rooster is a portrait of his brother who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers and cashiers with 6-inch fingernails. Compared by The New Yorker to Twain and Hawthorne, Sedaris has become one of our best-loved authors. Sedaris is an amazing reader whose appearances draw hundreds, and his performancesincluding a jaw-dropping impression of Billie Holiday singing I wish I were an Oscar Meyer weinerare unforgettable. Sedariss essays on living in Paris are some of the funniest hes ever written. At last, someone even meaner than the French! The sort of blithely sophisticated, loopy humour that might have resulted if Dorothy Parker and James Thurber had had a love child. Entertainment Weekly on Barrel Fever Sidesplitting Not one of the essays in this new collection failed to crack me up; frequently I was helpless. The New York Times Book Review on Naked
David Sedaris became a star autobiographer on public radio, onstage in New York, and on bestseller lists, mostly on the strength of "SantaLand Diaries," a scathing, hilarious account of his stint as a Christmas elf at Macy's. (It's in two separate collections, both worth owning, Barrel Fever
and the Christmas-themed Holidays on Ice
.) Sedaris's caustic gift has not deserted him in his fourth book, which mines poignant comedy from his peculiar childhood in North Carolina, his bizarre career path, and his move with his lover to France. Though his anarchic inclination to digress is his glory, Sedaris does have a theme in these reminiscences: the inability of humans to communicate. The title is his rendition in transliterated English of how he and his fellow students of French in Paris mangle the Gallic language. In the essay "Jesus Shaves," he and his classmates from many nations try to convey the concept of Easter to a Moroccan Muslim. "It is a party for the little boy of God," says one. "Then he be die one day on two... morsels of... lumber," says another. Sedaris muses on the disputes between his Protestant mother and his father, a Greek Orthodox guy whose Easter fell on a different day. Other essays explicate his deep kinship with his eccentric mom and absurd alienation from his IBM-exec dad: "To me, the greatest mystery of science continues to be that a man could father six children who shared absolutely none of his interests."
Every glimpse we get of Sedaris's family and acquaintances delivers laughs and insights. He thwarts his North Carolina speech therapist ("for whom the word pen had two syllables") by cleverly avoiding all words with s sounds, which reveal the lisp she sought to correct. His midget guitar teacher, Mister Mancini, is unaware that Sedaris doesn't share his obsession with breasts, and sings "Light My Fire" all wrong--"as if he were a Webelo scout demanding a match." As a remarkably unqualified teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago, Sedaris had his class watch soap operas and assign "guessays" on what would happen in the next day's episode.
It all adds up to the most distinctively skewed autobiography since Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia. The only possible reason not to read this book is if you'd rather hear the author's intrinsically funny speaking voice narrating his story. In that case, get Me Talk Pretty One Day on audio. --Tim Appelo