David Sedaris

Barrel Fever - Little, Brown and Company - 1994 - 196 pages

This first book by Sedaris consists of 12 "stories" (fiction) and 4 "essays" (non-fiction).  The stories are mostly bizarre, stream-of-consciousness, depressing tales about people who are total losers.  Recurring themes are abusive (or very strange) mother, alcoholism, homosexuality and a lazy-young-man-who-did-not-finish-college-and-cannot-get-a-good-job.  Although his writing style is often described as "satirical," I see it more as social commentary.  The best of the stories is "Barrel Fever" that is about alcoholism from the view of an alcoholic.  This is fiction but is also a powerful story about the disease that is often passed from parent to child.  Sedaris must have had some personal history with alcoholic family members to write such an account.  These early stories by Sedaris are well written but very depressing to me.  Each of them involves the tortured lives of fictional people.  And, there are so many people among us who exist in a constant state of desperation.

Of the essays, the best is "SantaLand Diaries" which is a true account of his work as a department store elf, a part-time job he had at the age of 33.  His account of his work days is hilarious and sad at the same time.  This essay and his reading of it on NPR radio are two factors that caused him to become a well-known writer and entertainer.  [JAM 10/12/2019]

Naked - Little, Brown and Company - 1997 - 291 pages

In his second book of essays, Sedaris continues his autobiography with tales of his early jobs and vacations.  As ever, he finds himself in difficult situation caused mostly by his own bad decisions.  He collected golf souvenirs for his father ("The Women's Open").  He accidentally smeared hair-color shoe polish on his father clothes hanging in a closet ("True Detective").  He took an unpaid, voluntary job in the local state mental hospital ("Dix Hill").  He hitchhiked cross-country giving each driver a different story and was often dropped into bad areas after dark ("Planet of the Apes").  He worked as an apple inspector for a self-describer child of God ("C.O.G.").  He worked as a wood stripper for a furniture finisher ("Something for Everyone").  And, in the title essay ("Naked"), he took a two-week vacation in a seedy trailer park for naturalists.  These were not examples of bad luck.  His bad fortunes in each of these stories were the result of bad decisions he made.  Fortunately for Mr. Sedaris, he has the ability to write and tell these stories about situations.  Otherwise, he would be unemployable to this day.  [JAM 11/15/2019]

Holidays on Ice - Little, Brown and Company - 1997 - 123 pages

The first 86 pages of this book are reprinted from the first two books (Barrel Fever and Naked) written by Sedaris.  The three new stories ("Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol," "Based Upon a True Story" and "Christmas Means Giving") complete the volume targeted to Christmas book buyers.  "Front Row Center ..." serves as a professional review of various elementary school Christmas programs.  The conclusion is that "the English language was chewed into a paste ..." etc.  "Based Upon a True Story" is a very long dialog by a television sit-com producer speaking to a church group in advance of the traditional Christmas program.  In fact, the speaker is holding their minister hostage while his construction group gets ready to bulldoze the existing building.  Finally, "Christmas Means Giving" is the story about two wealthy families who will do anything to outdo one another at Christmas and other times.  Things escalate to unimaginable limits to the detriment of both families.  It seems obvious that the three new stories were written for the purpose of filling pages for a specialty book led by the author's most popular article: "SantaLand Diaries."  [JAM 1/2/2020]