Book: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

A fine book of mostly funny short memoirs

David Sedaris
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Little, Brown, 2004
ISBN: 0-316-01079-0
257 pages

David Sedaris is a talented storyteller and memoirist and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is a fine book, much like his previous ones. It consists of 22 shortish stories about himself and his family, most of which have been published or broadcast elsewhere. But unless you read Esquire, GQ, and the New Yorker religiously and also listen to This American Life, you'll find some new gems here.

Mr Sedaris's writing is very good, which is good because his material is routinely pretty ordinary. The most obviously funny of the stories is "Six to Eight Black Men", which is about the Dutch holiday of Sinterklaas. (The title refers to Saint Nicholas's helpers, the "Zwarte Pieten" of which there doesn't seem to be a definite number.) It's really pretty easy to make fun of holiday traditions since they're almost inevitably a mashup of various different traditions that are often poorly understood and don't sit well together. But Mr Sedaris makes Sinterklaas very funny.

And in "Baby Einstein" he makes the ordinary event of his brother's wife's having a child very funny. For example:

    People who have nothing to prove offer practical baby
    gifts: sturdy cotton rompers made to withstand the cycle
    of vomit and regular washing. People who are
    competing for the titles of best-loved aunts and uncles --
    people like my sisters and me -- send satin pants and
    delicate hand-crafted sweaters accompanied by notes
    reading "P.S. the fur collar is detachable." The baby is
    photographed in each new outfit, and I receive pictures
    almost daily. In them my brother and his wife look not
    like parents but like backwoods kidnappers, secretly
    guarding the heiress to a substantial cashmere fortune.
    (p. 242)

As ususal in Mr Sedaris's books, the private lives of the members of his family get discussed in some detail. Indeed, in "Repeat After Me" it turns out that his sister Lisa isn't willing to tell him much about her life. But that doesn't prevent him from getting a good, and somewhat touching, story out of visiting her. And, also as usual, Mr Sedaris doesn't spare himself:

    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 is to
    convert rather than listen. (p. 203)

When I think about it, it seems as though I ought to have some sympathy for Mr Sedaris's difficulties in dealing with himself, his family, and the rest of the world. But if he ever managed to become well-adjusted, I'd have fewer funny stories to read.

Posted: Tue - January 10, 2006 at 08:13   Main   Category: