Just finished David Sedaris' book, a series of vignettes connected only by his brand of wit. He certainly has the two most vital qualities for a humorist: an unflinchingly, brutal honesty, and common sense. The common sense has faltered during various periods in his life, but he always recovers it later, to write about those lapses in amusing fashion.
Sedaris is also a very clever stylist. He introduces us to his homosexuality adeptly: he segues from his elementary school speech therapist who tried to cure him of his lisp to the subject of other boys afflicted by lisps, and how their interests differed from those of the popular kids. At the same time, he is matter of fact about his sexuality, periodically mentioning his boyfriend if he has any connection to the story at hand. Sedaris never delves into the politics of gayness; I don't think he even uses the word "gay" once in the entire book. For this I applaud him.
Sedaris has chapters about his father's musical ambitions for his children, his brief flirtation with conceptual art, his foul-tongued brother, various pets his family had, a cruel French teacher, crossword puzzles, the boorishness of American tourists, and Paris. He manages to make it all funny. He constructs an entire chapter about an incident where he went to the bathroom at a dinner party only to discover a huge turd in the toilet, and his frenzied -- and initially unsuccessful -- efforts to get rid of it lest someone think it his. He even manages to make this entertaining.
His humor is always insightful, though never particularly deep. It is also unmistakably fey. In his chapter on the unexpected turd ("Big Boy"), he writes, "By now the other guests were probably thinking I was the type of person who uses dinner parties as an opportunity to defecate and catch up on my reading."
Somehow I just can't see Ernest Hemingway having written that line.
(And it is to Hemingway's discredit that he would not have.)
The first paragraph in Sedaris's chapter on crosswords: "When asked, 'What do we need to learn this for?' any high school teacher can confidently answer that, regardless of the subject, the knowledge will come in handy once the student hits middle age and starts working crossword puzzles in order to stave off the terrible loneliness. Because it's true. Latin, geography, the gods of ancient Greece and Rome: unless you know these things, you'll be limited to doing the puzzles in People magazine, where the clues read, 'Movie title, Gone ____ the Wind' and 'It holds up your pants.' It's not such a terrible place to start, but the joy of accomplishment wears off fairly quickly."
I don't think the book is quite as great as the blurbs on the back cover would have you believe (no book is ever that good). For one thing, it has no unifying theme. Of course, that also makes it great for those of us who have ADD, or even situational ADD -- for instance, if we're on an airplane, unable to keep our train of thought due to turbulence but wanting to be distracted in between the bouts of choppiness.
I'll probably get another of his books for the return flight.