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Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim

by David Sedaris

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim
ISBN: 0-349-11813-2
Time Warner Books

I think the thing I admire most about David Sedaris is the completely unique way that he approaches his subjects. In fact, to be completely honest, his subjects are pretty boring fodder for the water cooler. If someone came into your office rambling about his odd parents, childhood memories, and bizarrely benign siblings, it certainly wouldn't make the gripping reading that Sedaris has managed to produce in his half-dozen collections of essays. Somehow, though, the author's minimalist descriptions are combined with a skewed, flawed, and deeply original viewpoint on the world.

Naturally, he would deserve a place in the histories just for "The Santaland Diaries," his strange-but-true adventures as a Macy's elf that was performed on NPR on 1992. The piece has since become the most-requested performance ever heard on the program. Since then, he has moved on to Naked, exposing himself both body and soul at a naturalist camp, and his last collection of essays, Me Talk Pretty One Day, in which he turned his sardonic wit not only on his family again but also on his troubled efforts to adjust to life in Paris.

Staying true to the formula, he has just released Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim, another collection of essays based on the diary he has kept every day for some thirty-odd years. While most of these stories have seen print already in Esquire, GQ and the New Yorker, Sedaris' work is so contained and addictive, you can't eat just one. They move back and forth through David's life from childhood to his troubled adolescence to his strange new life as a literary rocks star.

Although they are not my personal favorite, I know others who live and breathe by Sedaris' stories about his odd, very functional family. They include his father (a very loving man, but a goober of massive proportions, what seems like several dozen sisters (including his talented performing sis Amy Sedaris), and a redneck brother so deeply southern-fried that could never be a fiction. Brother Paul (known by his self-imposed sobriquet, "The Rooster,") is etched so perfectly that he feels in a very demented way, like a part of the family.

Sedaris does point his addled intellect at other targets as well, though. In "Possession," he faces the very middle-aged crisis of finally purchasing a place to live, agonizing over buying a Paris apartment with his long-term partner, Hugh. However, just pages later in typical fashion he finds himself building a fetish over the idea of owning, of all places, the Anne Frank house. Who thinks like this?

"Blood Work" is equally odd and continues to mine his experience cleaning apartments in New York City, a subject he touched on in previous books. Encountering a deeply strange client with some odd personal habits, Sedaris learns the dangers of fame. Having been written up in the New York Times as the writer who still kept up his housecleaning duties, the writer was getting to be fairly well known. Unfortunately, his new client mixed him up with an advertisement for an erotic housecleaning service. Hilarity ensues.

These should all be normal things but they turn out outlandishly. Perhaps the best facet of Sedaris' writing is that he is, above all other things, completely honest. Not only about his family but most of all about himself.
In Me Talk Pretty One Day, he relates the complete horror of being a young gay guy at summer camp. There are equally pointed observations here, no more so than "Chicken in the Henhouse," a story about being gay amid the insane moral panic that seems to grip America these days. While there are tons of laughs here just like his previous book, it is nice to see Sedaris run a few risks and show a darker side of his American life.

Of course, this is all to the chagrin of his family, I'm sure. His sister Lisa presses in "Repeat After Me," as to who will play her in the movie of Me Talk Pretty One Day, which has really been sold to the movies. There's something comfortingly ironic about the author's complete and rapturous attention to his sister's story as he writes, "I instinctively reached for the notebook I keep in my pocket and she grabbed my hand to stop me. 'If you ever,' she said, 'ever repeat that story, I will never talk to you again.'" Of course he'll tell the story. He's David Sedaris.

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