I bought David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim last year at a foreign book sale but after reading the first essay at home, I worried whether I’d be able take the book on my commute, given that I could barely stop laughing as I was reading it. So it went unread.
I decided to take my chances this time around and my commute was all the better for it. However, I’m not sure I have much constructive to say here. I enjoyed the collection, that’s for sure. Some of the pieces are hysterically funny (“Us and Them,” “Blood Work”), some are poignant — and also rather funny (“The Ship Shape,” “Full House”), and all but two or three hit the right note for me.
Only knowing the name Sedaris before but never having paid much attention, minus the odd New Yorker piece, I had no idea that he was gay, and this was a nice bonus in the sense that had I known, I would probably have had different expectations about the book. (I’m not sure what I would have expected but probably something where gay themes were more prominent. This speaks to both how things can become pigeonholed in one’s own mind despites best efforts, and also how many writers, gay or otherwise, are happy to fall into those same pigeon holes). Sedaris’ homosexuality is always there of course, and sometimes he might write more directly about his sexuality (the essays “Full House” and “Chicken in the Henhouse” particularly stand out for me in this regard) but the book is no more “about” homosexuality as a straight writer’s work would be a priori “about” heterosexuality.
I have another Sedaris collection, Naked, that I had bought at the same time as Dress Your Family… and initially I had planned on continuing with that next. However, after finishing this book I realized that perhaps one Sedaris was enough, at least for the time being. So, it was somewhat unfortunate that just as I was finishing Dress Your Family…, a co-worker lent me his copy of Holidays on Ice: Stories, and I didn’t feel comfortable turning it down. (And at any rate, it’s a short book so I knew it wouldn’t take long to finish it).
It would be easy to blame “Sedaris fatigue” for my rather negative opinion of Holidays on Ice, but I don’t really think that is what was going on here. I just didn’t like the majority of this book. There are only six essays here, all having something to do with the Christmas holidays. However, only two (“SantaLand Diaries” and “Dinah, the Christmas Whore”) involve Sedaris and his family, unlike in Dress Your Family… where they all did. And these were, perhaps not surprisingly, the only two pieces in this book that I liked.
The other four are basically short stories of a satirical nature. But they are so over the top that reading each one was like having a hammer pounding my head, and while each provided some chuckles, the overwhelming takeaway was “Why?” I just didn’t see any point to any of these. They seemed to have been scraped off the bottom of some barrel just to fill out what is in any event a pretty slim volume.
It was hard to believe that the person who wrote the essays of Dress Your Family… had also written these stories. I don’t know how they fit into the trajectory of Sedaris’ oeuvre but they struck me as bordering on juvenilia. They seemed like the kind of thing you might write to relieve a case of writer’s block, or something one might send around to friends in a private email, but it’s hard to believe anyone saw these as worthy of being published.