David Sedaris 2021, Little, Brown & Company
My general impression of Sedaris’ work is that his earlier stuff (starting with SantaLand Diaries in 1999) is focused on family, work, and relationships. In recent books, especially Calypso, current events are discussed more frequently. A Carnival of Snackery is a mix, but the last few chapters focus more specifically on political and social events – not surprising, given the time frame.
When David Sedaris releases a new book, I buy it – almost always the audio version. His latest work was released last week, and I finished it yesterday evening just as I pulled into my driveway after a three-hour drive. Did I take that drive to finish the book? Possibly.
Sedaris’ posts are nothing if not honest – especially his diary entries – and for much of the book, that honesty is hilarious. Conversations with Romanians, Poles, Italians, and Japanese in their native tongues, chats with readers at book signings, disputes with his partner Hugh – all honest, all funny.
At one point , his truth is my truth. David and I are of an age (he’s almost exactly five years older than I am), and his recounting of his father’s illness – well, I recognize it. At one point he shares that listening to the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” made him cry:
“It makes me ache for the Christmases we had in the seventies in eighties, all of us young and together . . . .”
Sedaris’ mother died many years ago, and his sister Tiffany committed suicide in 2013. Anyone who has lost loved ones might relate the same way, and this is my feeling every Christmas since my parents’ deaths in 2017 and 2019. This unvarnished truth gave me comfort – a little suprise gift, I guess. One doesn’t typically crack open a David Sedaris essay looking for solace.
Entries from 2020 were riveting. It was weirdly fascinating, and sobering, to revisit the mask debate, the hostility, illnesses, and deaths – all from diary entries that anchor the writer and the reader in that time, without the foreknowledge that a vaccine and a change in leadership are forthcoming. The deaths at the hands of police, the protests, the general violence – Sedaris’ recounting, though far from sensationalized, brought back all of the fear and anger of the summer of 2020.
In the past, David has recruited others, including his sister Amy, to share some limited narrating duties. In this book, he changed it up by sharing his narrator’s role almost 50/50 with actress Tracey Ullman, ostensibly for her skills with accents. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to which person narrates when, and when Tracey narrates as David (which, of course, she would), she does so in a British accent, in spite of the fact that, as we all know, Tracey can rock an American accent. To listen to “David” speaking in a British accent is offputting and dilutes the story’s humor. This is the reason for the honest four-star rating.