When David Sedaris releases a new book, it’s an event. The man could publish his medical records and his fans would line up around the block to buy it. As one of his fans myself, I am thrilled that this summer marks the release of his latest collection, which includes no intimate details about his spleen.
As always with a Sedaris book, the question is never ”Is it any good?” but rather ”Is it as good as his last one?” So, is it? Of course not. It’s better.
With Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Sedaris turns in a brilliant comic performance — a deftly shaken cocktail of wit, weirdness, and melancholy. It’s the very recipe that made him a star in the first place.
The collection begins in North Carolina with Sedaris’ childhood neighbors, the Tomkeys, who did not own a TV. His pity for them turns to rage when they go trick-or-treating one day late and his mother forces him to turn over some of his previous night’s loot. It’s classic Sedaris — using himself as the butt of the very funny (and messy) joke.
Though the book contains 257 pages of 22 essays (all but one of which have appeared elsewhere), for diehards it still feels about 1,000 pages too short. But it’s a riotous journey through his childhood; his odd-job years in New York City (and how odd); his relationship with his partner, Hugh; and shopping for real estate.
Sedaris is at his best when he’s affectionately detailing his family’s severe eccentricities. Consider that he has a brother named Rooster. Now consider Rooster’s culinary proclivities: ”Frozen dinners were often eaten exactly as sold, the Salisbury steak amounting to a stickless meat Popsicle.” So it figures that when this guy gets married, not all the wedding guests are even human. ”The flower girl was in heat. The rehearsal dinner included both canned and dry…” Even if you don’t cry at weddings, you’ll cry at this one — it’s screamingly, blood-vessel-burstingly funny.
Yet there’s more to Sedaris than laughs. He’s a skillful prose stylist who writes sentences of great elegance, even as they amuse: ”I can’t seem to fathom that the things important to me are not important to other people as well, and so I come off sounding like a missionary, someone whose job it is to convert rather than listen. ‘Yes, your Tiki god is very handsome, but we’re here to talk about Jesus.”’ It’s easy to read these essays fast and go right for the joke. But to do so is to miss a rich layer of his work.
Sedaris hits a new emotional note in the essay ”Put a Lid on It,” which reveals more about the author than all of his other essays combined. This story is so moving, it nearly made me cry. And it takes a lot to nearly make me cry. Sedaris details the painful gap between him and his sister Tiffany: She lives in squalor, while he wants to clean her dishes, cleanse her life, and see her bloom into the artist that she is. The piece demonstrates that he has a heart, despite what he might tell you, that is too large for him to contain.
Sedaris deserves a rave for giving us another book, period. But he’s getting one here for giving us the best book of his career.