Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Cult Of Sedaris Part II [Review: Me Talk Pretty One Day]

Now read on...

Hurt by the callous and ungentlemanly behaviour of those bookstorians, I went on to perform a highly scientific survey of fellow coffee drinkers, armed with my new copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day. My census confirmed, thankfully, that there are plenty of other people out there who have also never heard of David Sedaris. The test subjects also showed an immediate interest in the book - Mr. Sedaris, if this leads to any sales then I want my cut.

Finally I ran out of displacement activities and had no choice but to actually read the damn thing.

Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of short, strongly themed autobiographical stories. David Sedaris as a writer has a love of language and word-play. He also manages both to embrace his identity (sexuality, nationality, tastes and so on) and to simultaneously use Woody Allen-style self-deprecating humour. Eccentric family members and habits are easy targets, and the shadow of Sedaris' father looms large in many of the stories. Although I've no doubt there is at least exaggeration, the stories do ring true and are often moving as well as funny. Themes are varied - this is definitely a short story collection, not a novel - and include Sedaris' childhood encounter with a speech therapist, the rise and fall of Sedaris as a performance artist, and the title story, one of many about living in France and learning French.

While the humour is often gentle, don't be fooled: firstly, it's funny enough to cause a major incident on the Tube, and secondly Sedaris can,suddenly and without warning, dip into much blacker stuff. The following passage, from "The Youth In Asia" follows on from a series of hilarious but mostly harmless anecdotes about Sedaris' parents' pets:

"When my mother died and was cremated herself, we worried that, acting on instinct, our father might run out and immediately replace her. Returning from the funeral, my brother, sisters, and I half expected to find some vaguely familiar Sharon Two standing at the kitchen counter and working the puzzle in the TV Guide. 'Sharon One would have gotten five across' our father would have scolded. 'Come on, baby, get with it.' "

How does Sedaris fare with the Terry Pratchett comparison? It's hard to judge as they write such different material: giggling on Underground trains is probably the only common ground. Personally I would describe Sedaris as two parts Woody Allen, one part Garrison Keillor and one part Natalie Tran. And if that isn't either a recommendation or the best episode of "Come Dine With Me" ever, then I don't know what is.

With thanks to Lovy Boheme for the original recommendation.

[Edit 5.9.10: Oops! removed highly embarrassing mistake. I think I got away with it :o ]


kaori said...

I've been meaning to read this book !! ahhh. i heard hes hilllarious!!!!

Lovy Boheme said...

I'm glad you liked it! I don't think I'd compare him to Mr. Pratchett either, but they still both top my list of authors with books that are "sure things".

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Highly recommended Kaori, and thanks again Lovy - I will be seeking out the rest of David Sedaris' back catalogue, no doubt secretly filed under "travel writing," "American History," "Self Improvement" and "Pet Care."