Friday, February 5, 2010

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris

2004; 257 pages. #1 National Bestseller, whatever that means. Genre : Anecdotal Humor; Semi-autbiography. Overall Rating : "C".
22 stories from David Sedaris about growing up in a dysfunctional family and coping with a world that still gets freaked out by gays. The time period is roughly from the 5th Grade to the present.
What's To Like...
As always, there are some laugh-out loud funny tales here. Rooster At The Hitchin' Post is about Sedaris' younger brother's wedding, performed by a psychic found in the phone book, and with music by JD the DJ who by day works in the penitentiary.
Possession is about looking for the perfect apartment with his partner, Hugh, only to discover the two of them have very different ideas about decor and ambiance. In fairness, David is smitten by Anne Frank's apartment in Amsterdam (which is a museum and not for rent), so Hugh's choices were probably the more sensible.
For a change, not all the stories are zany. Baby Einstein is about the family coping with the complications at the birth of brother Paul's first child. Everyone survives, but just barely, and Paul's wife, Kathy, can have no more babies. Chicken in the HenHouse is Sedaris stressing out about the public's misconception (at least in his mind) that gay guys are also by definition pedophiles.
Unfortunately, some of the stories were neither funny nor heartwarming. Let It Snow is about the Sedaris kids, out in wintry weather and bored, convincing the youngest sister to trustingly lay down in the middle of the road in order to make cars swerve to miss her. Mom gets wind of it, comes out and cusses out all her kids, and that's that.
Kewl & New Words...
Just a couple, and they're mostly technical ones. Delft : a style of glazed earthenware - usually white with blue decoration (think Dutch china). D├ęcoupage : art produced by decorating a surface with cutouts, usually of paper. (as a youngster, Sedaris had done this to the electrical wall sockets in his bedroom). Sedaris also assumed I knew who Dorothea Lange was. You're not acquainted with her either? Here's her Wiki entry.
He knew how to plan a meal but displayed a remarkable lack of patience when it came time for the actual cooking. Frozen dinners were often eaten exactly as sold, the Salisbury steak amounting to a stickless meat popsicle. I phoned one night just as he was leaning a family pack of frozen chicken wings against the back door. He'd forgotten to defrost them and was now attempting to stomp the solid mass into three 6-inch portions, which he'd stack in a pile and force into his toaster oven. (pg. 167, talking about his brother, Paul).
They'd been living together for more than a year when I finally met the girlfriend, a licensed hairdresser named Kathy. Erase the tattoos and the nicotine patch and she resembled one of the tranquil Flemish madonnas, the ubiquitous Christ child replaced by a hacking pug. Her grace, her humor, her fur-matted sweaters - we loved her immediately. Best of all, she was from the North, meaning that should she and Paul ever conceive a child, it stood a fifty-fifty chance of speaking understandable English. (pg. 169-70).
I was on the front porch, drowning a mouse in a bucket...
Before Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004) there was Naked (1997) and Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000). I enjoyed both of the earlier books immensely; but this one felt "meh". Maybe there were only so many hilarious incidents in Sedaris' life, and those got mostly used up in the first two books. If so, that doesn't bode well for his most-recent offering, When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008), which I haven't read yet.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants a glimpse of the more human side of Sedaris. But if it's non-stop madcap stories you want, pick up the earlier works. We'll give it a "C", cuz it's not bad overall. But I admit it - I read Sedaris strictly for the humor.


Lula O said...

Crap another C? I've yet to read one that's above middle grade. Must try his earlier two then. And hey I've been decoupaging for years. You should see the early picture frames, now in a box with atmospheric dust layering on them.

Hamilcar Barca said...

i read Naked and Me Talk Pretty Someday just before joining 5-Squared. i laughed throughout both of those.

then neither Holidays On Ice or Dress Your Family seemed as good. maybe my tastes changed.

maybe Sedaris was running out of funny anecdotes. either way, i'd recommend starting with one of the first two. he joins a nudist colony in one; and lives in France whilst mangling the French language in the other.