Photo by Hugh HamrickYou know that David Sedaris is the brother of Amy Sedaris, and that she's the creator of Comedy Central's bleak after-school series StrangerswithCandy,and so you expect his essays to be marbled with irony, satire, savagery and the words "penis," "dead white piglet," "bitch" and a guitar-playing midget. What you don't expect—but get anyhow—is gentility, precision and humanity.
Many of his essays are about his family, a subject that sometimes wears thin—not for readers, for whom the stories are endlessly amusing, but for his family. In DressYourFamilyinCorduroyandDenim's"Repeat After Me," Sedaris' sister tells him about the time she went out for groceries, a story that "ended, unexpectedly, with a wounded animal stuffed into a pillowcase and held to the tailpipe of a car." As his sister relates the tale, Sedaris reaches for his notebook. "She grabbed me by the hand to stop me. 'If you ever . . . everrepeat that story, I will never talk to you again.' 'Oh, come on,' I said. 'The story's really funny, and, I mean, it's not like you're going to do anything with it.'"
His essays aren't improbable, but absurdly real because he has an eye for detail, an ear for the language peculiar to individuals. In MeTalkPrettyOneDay's"You Can't Kill the Rooster," we learn that in his family of eccentrics, the most eccentric is his younger brother Paul, who calls himself the Rooster. "When I was young," Sedaris recalls, "we weren't allowed to say 'shut up,' but once the Rooster hit puberty it had become acceptable to shout, 'Shut your motherfucking hole.' The drug laws changed as well. 'No smoking pot' became 'no smoking pot in the house,' before it finally petered out to 'please don't smoke any more pot in the living room.'" The story ends in the death of Sedaris' mother, and an O. Henry twist: it's Rooster, the blue-collar redneck with the black eye and purple speech, who comforts their intellectual father the most: "He was there when our mother died and still, years later, continues to help our father grieve: 'The past is gone, hoss. What you need now is some motherfucking pussy.'" It's Sedaris' lovely juxtapositions that seem so true, the odd couplings, I guess, that make reading him a motherfucking joy.