For me, David Sedaris is the master. When it comes to the type of comedic writing I want to be able to emulate, there’s nobody better than him. Having attempted (well, attempting) comedic writing myself over the last few months, I am discovering first hand just how difficult it is to make writing amusing. And Sedaris’s writing is not just amusing — it’s consistently laugh-out-loud funny, but at the same time it is incredibly clever and somehow manages to maintain an air of sophistication.
In my efforts to be more Sedaris-like in my own writings, I sought out one of his earlier books, Naked, published in 1997. Like the other Sedaris book I read, When You Are Engulfed in Flames (review here), Naked can be classified as a collection of ‘personal essays’ of varying lengths. Each essay covers an aspect or person of Sedaris’s life, from early childhood to adulthood, and are filled with outrageous characters (many of which are in Sedaris’s family) and anecdotes.
Titles of some of the my favourite essays include ‘A Plague of Tics’ (about Sedaris’s obsessive compulsive tendencies as a child), ‘Dix Hill’ (when Sedaris worked in a mental hospital as a teenager), ‘I Like Guys’ (where Sedaris discovers his homosexuality), ‘The Drama Bug’ (when Sedaris became a theatre fanatic and spoke in Shakespearean for months), ‘Planet of the Apes’ (about Sedaris’s hitchhiking stories), ‘The Incomplete Quad’ (where Sedaris shared dorms with quadriplegic students for free housing), and ‘Naked’ (about Sedaris’s experiences in a nudist colony).
Yes, as the above suggests, Sedaris is a weird, neurotic, somewhat disturbed guy, but he embraces it with a bizarre sense of self-righteousness and humility. His stories are hilarious because they are so brutally honest, and each joke almost always provides some kind of insight into human nature. And every now and then he would surprise you with a dash of poignancy, like the piece on his mother’s passing from cancer (‘Ashes’).
Sedaris weaves his internal thoughts, the anecdotes, the stories and the characters together effortlessly with elegant, clean prose, marvellous dialogue (some of which are really mini-soliloquies), astute observations and crafty storytelling. The thing that amazes me most about Sedaris’s writing is that he knows exactly what words to use to convey the image he wants you to form in your mind. His descriptions are brief but on the money just about every time, and he can give you a pretty good idea of what a person is like in a just a couple of slabs of dialogue. He brings his characters to life in a way that few writers can.
I didn’t necessarily like every piece in the book, though that being said, each piece had its moments and I absolutely loved around half a dozen of the 17 essays. I am certain that I will read his work again (and hopefully sooner rather than later).
4.5 out of 5