I think this is the strongest book David Sedaris has written. Maybe it’s because I listened to it as an audiobook (narrated/performed by the author) instead of reading it, which always helps the humor along.
It’s sectioned into essays on various topics, each one about 30 minutes. I was listening to this on my lunchtime walk, and kept bursting out laughing, which probably meant people nearby think I was a weirdo, but I didn’t care. Sedaris touches on everything from a shopping trip in a taxidermy shop to the limits of Pimsler dialogue.
His essays often deal with his parents, specifically his father, with whom I am starting to think he has a rocky relationship. Some of it is rather bitter, like when he talks about finally getting good at swimming only to have his father not care. Some of it is amusing, like his father’s repeated exhortations for him to get a colonoscopy. The saddest essay of all talks about keeping captured animals as pets when he was a child. Reading about the baby sea turtles imprisoned in his aquarium made me want to cry.
Mostly, the essays are hilarious. Sedaris walks the razor edge of self-deprecation, where he knows he’s being judgmental and fussy, but not so much that he plans on changing that part of his personality. His descriptions are completely vivid. I felt I could smell the death in the tank of baby sea turtles, taste the curls of freezer-burned ice milk his father gave to the neighbor kid, and see the heaps of trash piling up in the otherwise picturesque village in England. Sedaris has impeccable word choices and great turns of phrases that mark him as a good writer.
As with many books, it started out as amazing but kind of lost it near the end. The last three stories, while well done, left me with a bad feeling. The last three stories were all fiction, first person narrations by (fictional) terrible people, and I could see why other people would find them funny. For me, they just made me feel kind of unhappy and ill at ease. The epilogue, the little bit from Pimsler at the end, was cheeky and brilliant, but when I think of this book, I think of the last three stories. I got what he was trying to do, and he did it very well, but listening to them just made me feel like I’d eaten something spoiled, or like I just saw a bully do something cruel. Because of this sour end to a very funny book, I’m leaning towards not giving it five stars.
Still, it’s exceptionally well written and literally made me laugh out loud in nearly every chapter.