Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – 3/5 Stars
I went looking for some pictures of David Sedaris and his family after listening to the audiobook here and stumbled upon the article about the suicide of his sister Tiffany. Along with that article came some additional writings by people responding to it. This book is probably the strongest version of “You Can’t Go Home Again” in Sedaris’s writing, especially as it pertains not only to his sister, but to various of conversation represented in the book about David’s inability to not write stories about his family.
The best of the stories are when the trauma is light or his own, especially when he’s dealing with the rejection from his father and trying to make it in the world by himself. As far as the family goes, when he’s talking about his youngest brother Paul, who you know as “the Rooster”, it seems not only is Paul (in David’s rendering) unaffected by the representation, David seems pretty far from Paul’s mind in most cases.
Regardless, the stories that are very good, “Let it Snow” and “Us and Them” especially shine and occur early. This collection includes the story of David accidentally being hired as an erotic housecleaner, and about various “Rooster” stories, though not the best “You Can’t Kill the Rooster”. His mom and dad are less of an issue because rather than being co-subject to family oppression and trauma, they are its inflictors. I tend to subscribe to Anne Lamott’s credo that is you don’t like the way you’re written about, you should have behaved better. It’s not as simple as this obviously, but it seems to be David’s take.
Learning to Talk – 3/5
This is a small short story collection by Hilary Mantel recently published. The introduction to the collection tells us that while the stories are not explicitly autobiographical, they are clearly inspired by her autobiography. This does not seem to mean a roman a clef kind of situation, but more that things she experienced when she was young was somewhere in her mind as she wrote these stories. In addition, the final story in the collection is titled, and possibly borrowed from, her memoir that came out a while back.
The stories are mostly slight, taking place far away from London, and often feel provincial and small. I only mention this in comparison to her other story collection, and especially the Thomas Cromwell novels and A Greater Place of Society. I haven’t read any of her other novels, but those novels are so expansive and rich, and these stories are slight and spare. It’s a stylistic change that’s stark if not alarming.
The title story is one of, if not the best in the collection. In the story, a girl is sent to a kind of finishing school to improve her speech. Specifically she realizes, from her future narrative position that she is learning received pronunciation, and given how far away from her position in the country, this is a kind of cultural erasure for her.