Thursday, October 30, 2008

Funny and True

I am almost though David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames. He's one of the many authors I've been meaning to read, so I was pleased to find his book on our library's new-reads shelf. The cover would not attract many, being a skeleton smoking a cigarette. So much for the old adage, because it's a laugh-out-loud book with ridiculous scenes written in a feisty first-person style that is not for children or the faint of heart. Sedaris talks about death a lot, his own and that of others. Seems he worked for a time in a coronor's office, with all the attendant gore and despair. Then, of course, there's the demise of his long-time neighbor and prime tormentor, Helen. Even the near loss of a pet spider named April. The man on the plane sitting next to him, sobbing over the recent death of his mother. Sedaris's memory of his mother's funeral. It takes real courage, talent, and nerve to make a reader laugh in the presence of such morose material.

The strength of the book lies in the absence of lies. Or so it seems. I cannot vouch for the reality of life as Sedaris describes it, but I believe him. He's willing to admit his own dark side, the drugs of years past, the boil on his butt, his chain smoking, his fear of speaking French, even though he divides his time among the US, Paris, and Normandy. The spider was French. When he describes having that boil lanced, the gore is honest, the attitude wildly funny. How many of us would call the amateur surgeon--Hugh just happens to be David's partner--Sir Lance-a-Lot? Sedaris is a smart writer, one who has made his own life his on-going resource. For him research is getting up in the morning, well, mid-morning in his case. I look around and cannot see what's funny in my own life. Thanks to David Sedaris I might learn.

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