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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Sedaris brings usual wit to latest

    Everything about David Sedaris’s morbid, understated humor is embodied by his most recent book’s cover art: a Van Gogh piece titled “”Skull with Cigarette.””

    The art of a Sedaris essay is its loyalty to familiar subjects – family, drugs, eccentric landlords – heightened by its continuous references to some chosen theme. In “”Me Talk Pretty One Day,”” it was language barriers and his hopeless attempts to learn French; this time, he’s chosen death … death and every germ, parasite, blood-boil and carcinogenic substance paving the way to it.

    Oddly enough, or perhaps entirely fittingly – this is Sedaris we’re talking about – the book’s grand finale is an 80-page chronicle of his thirty-some years as a smoker, before quitting at last. With Sedaris, the reader will travel through decades of changing smoking laws, including those glass boxes in airports, which he describes as a “”live antismoking commercial”” – “”My old friend with the hole in his throat was always there, as was his wife, who had a suitcase in one hand and an oxygen tank in the other.””

    The unsettling thing about his revelations of the ugly side of life is that many of them come from the most mundane of observations. A cussing couple dressed in tweed and cashmere on a plane (“”Town and Country””) has him questioning his shallow assumptions about refinement; Balancing these are a few of his signature outrageous tales, including one of his elderly neighbor Helen, who uses the word “”twat”” and physically assaulted a 14-year-old delivery boy.

    There’s a self-deprecating awareness in his narrative, too, as illustrated through “”In the Waiting Room,”” in which he finds himself naked and in a French hospital, only to conclude that most people – unlike him – won’t turn his embarrassing incident into its own personal essay.

    It’s always the small details that provide the humor – phrases like “”burning mummy”” and “”Mr. Balloon Man”” elicit laughs so inexplicable, passersby may well wonder what’s wrong with you. And you’ll say, “”I’m captivated by David Sedaris’ subtle brilliance,”” because that sounds much smarter and saner than admitting you understand his every neurosis.

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