It’s here! Aren’t you excited? It’s been four long years since the bestselling Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim was published, and now David Sedaris finally has a new book out. When You Are Engulfed in Flames includes 22 new personal essays from the funniest writer alive. Sedaris delivers the same deft wit and insight as in his other four essay collections, with more ease than ever before. His talent for finding meaning in the mundane seems endless and Sedaris never ceases to impress or offer humor about the world.
It’s here! Aren’t you excited? It’s been four long years since the bestselling Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim was published, and now David Sedaris finally has a new book out.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames includes 22 new personal essays from the funniest writer alive. Sedaris delivers the same deft wit and insight as in his other four essay collections, with more ease than ever before. His talent for finding meaning in the mundane seems endless and Sedaris never ceases to impress or offer humor about the world.
Stand out pieces include “This Old House,” the story of a boarding house where Sedaris lived for less than a year in his young adulthood while washing dishes at a local, old-timey restaurant. At first the proprietor, a middle-aged woman, takes as much delight as Sedaris in dressing and acting like she’s from a completely different era, one with knickers, top hats and antiques. Then crazy people infiltrate the house.
“That’s Amore” is about the volatile friendship between the author and Helen, a vulgar old woman who lives in the apartment next door. In “Adult Figures Charging Toward a Concrete Toadstool” Sedaris ruminates on his childhood, specifically when his parents dabbled in crappy art. He concludes that of all the “art” in the house, he and his siblings will probably fight over a particular hokey lawn ornament when their parents are gone.
Every single essay is funny and poignant. Sedaris still writes about his family, a topic that has always fascinated his readers, but he takes a slightly different approach to this collection, covering a wide array of topics. It’s more somber than his previous books. If the cover art (a skeleton with a cigarette between its teeth) is any indication, Sedaris seems to have death on the mind.
The story “Memento Mori” is about the year Sedaris finally finds the perfect Christmas gift for Hugh, his longtime boyfriend. It’s a skeleton. He knows it’s what Hugh wants because, for once, he hinted at it. Sedaris ends up finding a 300-year-old skeleton at a flea market, and Hugh couldn’t be more pleased. He hangs it in their bedroom, something our narrator hadn’t expected. From there it quietly taunts Sedaris with fact that he too will someday be dead.
Though Sedaris claims that the skeleton spoke to him??and of course that couldn’t really happen??it’s only a credit to his storytelling ability, of which hyperbole is a classic element. Much of the comedy in his stories comes from exaggeration, which the author has been criticized for, but it doesn’t undermine anything he is trying to get across. He writes about life through his unique, sometimes cynical and fantastical lens–and that’s what has made him a success.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames covers a lot of territory. Sedaris buys weed with his brother, befriends a spider, is seated next to the bitchiest woman ever on a plane and even writes about coming out for the first time. Most of the pieces are brief little insights to Sedaris’ mind.
The last story of the collection, however, is kind of a monster at 83-pages long. In it, Sedaris chronicles how he started smoking in his 20s and how, at the age of 50, he quit. (He’s now 51 years old.) The short form suits his writing better, but that’s not to say this long piece isn’t enjoyable. It’s just a bit all over the place.
If it’s another four years until we see another book from Sedaris, try to savor this one. Of course, if the past has taught us anything, Sedaris’ stories are just an enjoyable the second, third … fourth time around.
This collection will please the pants off fans of Sedaris and would be as good a place as any for a first-timer to start off. Go read it. Now.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames****1/2Author: David SedarisPrice: $25.95Publisher: Little, Brown and Company