All the Beauty You Will Ever Need

When David Sedaris came to speak in my town last year, I didn't go because tickets were $33 and I can't justify spending that much on one night's entertainment. [Caveat: Unless they bring their own motherfucking spaceship]. But no hard feelings - I picked up the man's new book When You Are Engulfed in Flames last week, having kinda enjoyed 'Me Talk Pretty One Day' and not read anything else of his. I wasn't really aware that there's a whole lot of controversy around Sedaris and his authenticity at the time, but to be honest, it doesn't really bother me. I don't read his work because I necessarily believe it to be true, so much as it's pretty interesting, often very funny, and ocassionally quite moving.

After 'When You Are Engulfed in Flames', though, my opinions of him have slipped. Not because of the embellishment nonsense, but just because I didn't really enjoy it much. What I liked about 'Me Talk Pretty...' was all the discussion of his family, their togetherness, their fallings-out, etc. Here, there isn't too much about them. A lot of stories focus on larger-than-life characters like a grouchy, bossy next door neighbour ('That's Amore'), a crazy babysitter ('The Understudy'), a trucker who really wants a little relief ('Road Trips'), an NYC cabbie who really loves lesbian pornography ('Town and Country') or a really mean co-passenger on a flight ('Solution to Saturday's Puzzle'). All of these are interesting enough, but didn't really have anything to say. They at least keep you hooked, but are kinda disposable. I enjoyed listening to them, and forgot about them pretty quickly.

There are many more tales which are far more instantly forgettable, too. His partner Hugh gets a skeleton as a gift, David collects spiders, Hugh's mother gets a stomach worm, Hugh walks too fast, David is fascinated by corpses. Blah blah blah.

Only a couple of times does Sedaris react to genuinely sympathetic characters with some tenderness and these stories stand out the most. An eccentric landlady struggling to take care of her elderly mother and mentally handicapped daughter. A grieving man on an aeroplane. An outcast French villager. These, and one about using album covers to repel woodpeckers from the windows, show a little more emotion and really stood out for me.

The focal point of the book, though, is the big finale - a huge piece called 'The Smoking Section' which is about his sisters' smoking, visiting Tokyo, learning Japanese, a history of tobacco in the United States, a treatise on why he hates cheap hotels, a history of tobacco in the rest of the world, and Sedaris' personal quest to give up smoking. Yep, it's huge, sprawling and all over the place. Like a microcosm of the book as a whole, really. Some good bits lost in the midst of a lot of not-so-good bits. For fans only.

This past weekend, I drove a lot in pretty heavy rain. And listened to 'The Fidelity Wars'. This song could be playing in 'The Smoking Section'.

[download Hefner - A Hymn for the Cigarettes]


Florizel said...

Hefner is often great, and the hymn for Cigarettes is one of the best songs of all time.

just my own opinion, I realize, but I always enjoy a nice shout out about a good song.

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