David Sedaris

Book - 2018

Personal essays share the author's adventures after buying a vacation house on the Carolina coast and his reflections on middle age and mortality.

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New York : Little, Brown and Company 2018.
Main Author
David Sedaris (author)
First edition
Physical Description
viii, 259 pages ; 22 cm
  • Company Man
  • Now We Are Five
  • Little Guy
  • Stepping Out
  • A House Divided
  • The Perfect Fit
  • Leviathan
  • Your English Is So Good
  • Calypso
  • A Modest Proposal
  • The Silent Treatment
  • Untamed
  • The One(s) Who Got Away
  • Sorry
  • Boo-Hooey
  • A Number of Reasons I've Been Depressed Lately
  • Why Aren't You Laughing?
  • I'm Still Standing
  • The Spirit World
  • And While You're Up There, Check On My Prostate
  • The Comey Memo
Review by New York Times Review

STRAIGHT AWAY, I think it is in the common interests of transparency and full disclosure to tell you that over the last few weeks since I - and I fear this is no coincidence! - began reading the book that is the subject of this review, there has been a gradual, yet very distinct, change in my outlook, demeanor and even my worldview. My life has assumed an overreaching hue that can be described only, and I do mean be described only as, well, Sedarían. It first came to my attention in the Aspire Lounge of the Edinburgh airport, which, I assume, is so named because there is a relatively short window between when you have entered it and when you aspire to leave. "Porridge is available on request" declared a sign next to the sausages. My U.S./U.K. power adapter was one of those annoying ones that have a protruding ridge, so the only way my computer charger would remain in the socket was to wedge my copy of "Calypso" between my chair and said socket, ensuring my laptop didn't die but forcing me to restrict my movements to all but the most legato typing. My husband had fallen asleep next to me, and I worried that if his head lolled even a few centimeters he might scupper the entire perilous sys- tem - yet waking him to warn him might result in the exact same outcome. What would David Sedaris do? I thought. I was trapped, I realized, on the inside of a mask once worn by the man himself. I felt his potency. It was palpable. He seriously could start a cult. It would be a total hoot. Not for everyone, true - but I'm in. It's not like there weren't warning signs: That morning as I drove to the airport I listened to BBC Radio Scotland and nearly drove off the road laughing at a new campaign to encourage people to learn CPR by using the Proclaimers song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)." "And I will press 500 times / And I will press 500 more / Just to be the one to save you / Till the ambulance comes to your door," declared Carol Smillie, a TV host long beloved by my people. It seemed that this entrancing collection of essays, and my fascination with its author, had sucked me into some nerdy netherworld where real life becomes weirder and funnier and darker and bleaker than, well, real life. I have come to the conclusion that David Sedaris is not just some geeky Samuel Pepys, as I had assumed all these years. True, he may shed a revelatory light on the more extreme facets of our societal spectrum through his bizarre and pithy prism. Yes, his worldview - a fascinating hybrid of the curious, cranky and kooky - does indeed hold a mirror up to nature and show us as others see us. But make no mistake: He is not the Fool, he is Lear. West Sussex in England and Emerald Isle in North Carolina are his kingdoms. Amy, Gretchen, Lisa, Paul and the tragic Tiffany are his royal siblings, ever shifting in their allegiances and presence in one another's lives. Lou is his father, once so distant and scornful of his fragile son, now softer and benign, proffering unwanted gifts that Sedaris has learned are easier for all concerned to accept with grace. The family home in Raleigh was once presided over with gusto by Sharon, the Sedaris matriarch. Her death from cancer hangs over these pages like a long-ago exhaled puff of a Winston. Like the plot of nearly every decent Disney movie, the young Sedaris princes and princesses were sent out into the scary grown-up world motherless and rudderless but buoyed by her magnificent spirit. Sharon had developed slowly into a messy alcoholic. It took her kids many years to realize this about the woman they all adored, who nightly would clutch the kitchen counter to steady herself as she launched into one of her hilarious and biting rants. I got them laughing was both her mantra and catchphrase, yet none of those truly loving children could ever bring themselves to challenge her about it, let alone help her. And, alas, their silence did not protect her. This failure, this regret and, actually, this neglect is haunting to the point of being unbearable, yet Sedaris's brash and raw eloquence allows us to never linger too long in the darkness. He doesn't just bring gallows humor, he brings gallows rimshot. This book allows us to observe not just the nimble-mouthed elf of his previous work, but a man in his seventh decade expunging his darker secrets and contemplating mortality. "Calypso" chronicles his latest attempts to come to terms with the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune that life has flung at him. For Lear the storm is the central metaphor: the elemental storm, the societal storm he has engendered and the internal storm as he struggles with pride, age and looming madness. For Sedaris a snapping turtle with a partly missing foot and a tumor on its head becomes an unlikely leitmotif. He encounters the turtle in a canal on Emerald Isle, and a semiotic friendship begins. Well, perhaps not a friendship, but certainly a one-sided appreciation. Not only does the author visit the turtle to feed it scraps like some novice apostle leaving sacrifices for his deity, but when he himself finds a tumor on his tummy, one of the harmless fatty ones that nonetheless grow to the size and consistency of a hard-boiled egg, he decides to have it removed and take it back to the island to feed it to his turtle friend - both the ultimate act of devotion and the creation of a new literary genre -.tumor humor. Initially at least, these plans are foiled by his surgeon. "It's against federal law for me to give you anything I've removed from your body," he tells the author, who promptly flees the scene, tumor intact. A less staunch man might have abandoned his plan there and then, but Sedaris perseveres and eventually finds a lovely Mexican lesbian who offers to perform the surgical deed after he tells the story of his first, failed attempt to feed the turtle his lump during a book reading in El Paso. The woman - her pseudonym is Ada - sends the tumor to his sister Lisa, who keeps it in her freezer until the next time the Sedaris clan gathers at Emerald Isle. The brilliance of David Sedaris's writing is that his very essence, his aura, seeps through the pages of his books like an intoxicating cloud, mesmerizing us so that his logic becomes ours: I found myself rooting for him to be able to keep his tumor and longing for the beautiful, climactic reunion scene when the sick turtle eats it. And it soon becomes clear why Sedaris finds it so important to be the master of his tumor: He sees himself in that turtle - weird, slightly damaged, set in his ways - so feeding it a part of him is also replenishing himself. King Lear gave away his lands, David Sedaris gives away his fatty lump. Health matters, aging and death itself are omnipresent in this book, like tentacles pulling a collection of stories together into a whole. Nowhere is the pain and mundanity of loss more hauntingly evoked than in the revelations about the suicide of the writer's sister Tiffany. Her death is mentioned early and referred to throughout, each heartbreaking detail adding a piece to this jigsaw of suburban family pain and confusion. Sedaris's description of his last encounter with Tiffany - beautifully lobbed at the reader from left field - describes her waiting for him at the stage door after one of his rock-star-like literary entertainments. That evening Sedaris feels empowered enough to deny his unpredictable and flailing sibling access to him. He feels content enough to think of his own well-being above her toxic needs. He revels, for a tragic, misplaced moment, in the power of being a star, and at his behest the door closes on Tiffany's face. They never see each other again, and she later kills herself in a manner as determined and cold as her brother's rejection that night. Of course such a tragedy sends reverberations throughout the family. Realignment is inexorable. He did not seek the position, and has somewhat reluctantly assumed the role, but there is no doubt that David Sedaris has become the daddy of his family. The geeks really do inherit the earth. One day recently when walking home across town in Lower Manhattan, I bumped into Amy Sedaris, the author's sister. We had worked together on "The Good Wife" when she came into the show to be my character's professional rival and love interest. One scene had her squirt whipped cream on my fingers and lick it off, and she actually bit me. Quite hard. I am nuts about her. We stopped to say hello. I noticed she had been shopping and was carrying several packages and bags. My mind flashed to the chapter in this book where she, her brother and their sister Gretchen travel to Japan to go shopping. But not just shopping. They become cave men, shopping beasts, consumer omnivores. And now here was one of them, today's catch in hand, beaming shyly at me in the middle of Broadway. It felt like a character from a book had tumbled down from the sky into my life, and of course she had. If I now viewed my life in glorious Sedariscope, it felt completely logical that one of his sisters should be enacting a story from the book in front of me. And also logical that seconds later, mid-pleasantry, we should both realize that the lights had changed to green and we were about to be mowed down and become New York City roadkill. Death and family are what this book is all about. Maybe what all David Sedaris's work is about? Maybe what all good writing has to be about for they are really the only constants in all our lives? We can avoid neither and the existence of both reminds us that we are no different from one another. As Sedaris says: "They've always done that for me, my family. It's what keeps me coming back." ? 'I have come to the conclusion that David Sedaris is not just some geeky Samuel Pepys, as I had assumed till these years.' alan CUMMING is an actor and author of four books, most recently "The Adventures of Honey and Leon."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 29, 2018]
Review by Booklist Review

Sedaris spends a good part of every year speaking all over the world; it's no wonder, then, that many of the personal essays in this new collection (his first since Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, 2013, though he released the first volume of his diaries last year) consider air travel and his fellow passengers. Such constant movement, on tour or between his cottage in West Sussex and his home on North Carolina's Emerald Isle, provides plenty of fodder for him to rage against small talk but not without suggestions for its improvement. Sedaris' family and upbringing have long been mainstays in his work, but this collection encompasses perhaps his most tender writing on the subjects yet. His sister Tiffany's recent suicide looms over family get-togethers, and his parents, his mother long passed and his father still hale in his nineties, receive ample page-time, too. For readers concerned that Sedaris has become too reverent, there's also an episode in which he seeks connection with a tortoise via hilariously head-scratching means. Readers may think they know what to expect from Sedaris; they'll be both surprised and delighted. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: There will be major fanfare, including a four-month tour, for Sedaris' first new collection in five years. Order up!--Bostrom, Annie Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Humorist Sedaris (Theft by Finding) collects 21 essays largely about family bonds and getting older in this hilarious yet tender volume. Facing middle age, the author purchased a beach house, which he named Sea Section, in his childhood state of North Carolina. The beach abode serves not only its intended purpose as a perfect location for family gatherings, but also ends up being a venue for arguments, jokes, and encountering local wildlife (in particular, a snapping turtle to whom Sedaris joked he'd feed a benign fatty tumor Sedaris had formed). Sedaris's mother died of cancer in 1991 at the age of 62, but his conservative, 92-year-old father (with whom he has a difficult relationship), three sisters (a fourth committed suicide), and younger brother are frequent visitors and fodder for Sedaris's perceptive and imaginative sense of humor; no subject seems too sacred for his wit, including his sister's suicide ("I've always liked to think that before killing myself I'd take the time to really mess with people") and the physical attractiveness of Jesus. He also riffs on topics ranging from the inane conversations people have at shops, airports, and hotels ("You're a long way from home, aren't you?" one bellman comments) to the nasty expletives drivers scream from cars. Throughout, Sedaris reveals a deep loyalty to family, with loving reminiscences of his mother, a palpable wish to be closer to his father, and a nostalgic devotion to his siblings and their shared memories. The author's fans and newcomers alike will be richly rewarded by this sidesplitting collection. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Sedaris's narration certainly brings his true flavor and personality to these pages. This latest work is full of the author's usual dark humor combined with a deep sense of the changes in his family; it may be his most intimate book. His observations and insights come from viewing aging, loss, and mortality as he often crosses the lines of "acceptable" behavior. A live recording of "While You're up There, Check on My Prostate" includes audiences roaring at the crudest insults about bad drivers they may never forget and his own tumor's memorable journey. The essays about a Carolina coastal beach house can resonate with summer cottage renters and are tinged with the smells of sand and suntan oil; the revelations about his late sister Tiffany and his parents are bitter-sweetly relatable; and listeners will enjoy accompanying the author on his Fitbit walks in airports and in Europe. VERDICT Sedaris isn't to everyone's tastes, but fans are in for plenty of laughs and some more poignant moments. Original musical interludes composed and performed by Daniel Hart are a bonus. ["[Sedaris's] honesty is compelling, and his ability to create laughter in the darkness offers readers comfort and hope": LJ 5/1/18 starred review of the Little, Brown hc.]-Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers' jokes "as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind." A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn't keep it once it was removed. "But it's my tumor," he insisted. "I made it." (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author's mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother's death, and his cantankerous father's erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother's drinking--and his family's denial of it--makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded "like a trigger being cocked." Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn't lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say "have a blessed day" make him feel "like you've been sprayed against your will with God cologne." But bad news has sharpened the author's humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it's increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.Sedaris at his darkest--and his best.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.