Monday, June 16, 2008
monday book review: when you are engulfed in flames, by david sedaris
With this, his most recent collection of sardonic essays inspired by his life, I am officially starting to worry that David Sedaris may be running out of ideas.  

Undoubtedly, fans of Sedaris will eventually pick up his newest collection.  Unfortunately, fans of Sedaris are already long-since familiar with his family, his boyfriend Hugh, and his humorous struggles to learn the language while living in France.  And since When You Are Engulfed in Flames includes several essays about his family, his boyfriend, and his struggles to learn the language while living in a foreign land (Japan this time, but even still), I was left with the unmistakable feeling that Sedaris was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Furthermore, all of the essays in this collection have already appeared in either The New Yorker or This American Life, so for hard-core Sedaris fans there's probably not a single new piece to be found.

For those who haven't already read the essays in this collection, they are standard Sedaris - witty, dry, the mundane turned humorous.  Like the Van Gogh on the cover, some of the stories here are downright creepy - Sedaris' retelling of his brief stint in a morgue, the story of his awkward friendship with a Normandy neighbor who turned out to be a pedophile, and the one where he recalls various pervy experiences gained while hitchhiking to name a few, and reading these is more of a uncomfortable experience than a humorous one.  Certainly, there are some gems to be found, and "The Smoking Section" where he writes about his attempt to stop smoking by moving to - of all places - Tokyo was, for me, the most enjoyable.  But even still, I felt like I had heard it before.  Like the novelty had worn off a bit.  

But this isn't to say I didn't enjoy reading When You Are Engulfed in Flames.  It may be spotty, but for my money spotty Sedaris is still better than a lot of the crap that's out there.  It's just that we're often hardest on the ones we love the most, you know?

David Sedaris
323 pages, 2008

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