As a loyal listener of “This American Life,” I’ve been listening to stories from David Sedaris for ages. I rarely find him shocking (do people find him shocking?), but actually, hilarious and delightful. I would go so far as to say that I find him to be a comfort, and a familiar.
This is the first of his books that I’ve actually listened to with my eyes. His voice is immediate and steadily present for me, in the best possible way. A series of stories exactly like those I’ve been listening to for over a decade (have I, in fact, heard some of these stories read aloud at some point?), he delivers what I’ve come to look forward to from him, and I loved every sarcastic, poignant, hyperbolic word.
This particular grouping of stories moves through his youth and into his adult life. The first half of the book focuses on his childhood in North Carolina and his moves as a young man to Chicago and then New York (I should emphasize Manhattan, because he emphasizes it, which I, a proud Brooklyn resident, noted particularly). The second half of the book delivers mostly stories of his time, current to his writing this book, living in the French countryside and also Paris.
It’s hard to tell whether or not he’s self-aware enough to realize that his stories of wanting to belong, but failing to belong, and wanting to be special, but failing to be special prove him to be part of an enormous community, and incredibly special. His stories show him falling flat at every attempt to be remarkable, but his writing style is so exceptional: his exaggerations so perfectly walk a razor’s edge; his sarcasm is just barely on this side of rude; and his characterizations of the people he encounters are so specific but universal… it’s as easy as breathing to identify with him, envy him, and thank your lucky stars that you’re not him, all in a moment.
Will I run out and read more of his work immediately? Probably not. I think if I’d started reading him 10 years ago, when everyone was raving about him and I was listening to him on the radio and thinking “goddammit, how is he so funny and weird and right?” I probably would have inhaled everything he’s ever written. But now he’s just part of my landscape. I’ll enjoy the hell out of him when I read him or encounter him again (“TAL” just rebroadcast an old episode that included a story of his, and I listened to it again as if for the first time). But there’s no need to seek him out, because he’s already in my life.