Reviewed by L.D.Y.
Hardcover (available in trade), 257 pages, 2004
Reason for Reading: I’ve been hearing all of the hoopla about Sedaris for at least a few years, but never got around to reading him until now.
Synopsis: Dress Your Family is a collection of twenty-two humourous essays about Sedaris’ everyday life experiences with his family at various points in his life, covering everything from his brother’s first child to the search for the perfect apartment to a family trip to the beach.
Why you should read this book: You didn’t really think you were the only one with a weird family, did you? Constantly proving that the truth is often stranger (and funnier) than fiction, Sedaris guides us through a cast of uncontrollable family members: a no-holds-barred (really, none) brother; a rich aunt that buys a brand-new Cadillac every year; a conservative father put off by Sedaris being gay; and a mildly paranoid, slightly hysterical sister, amongst others. Sedaris lets it all fly, regardless of whether he’s making himself or a family member look bad: everything is potential fodder for his books, as one of his disgruntled sisters points out. A look at the often absurd ways we live our modern lives, Corduroy is definitely good for a few laugh-out-loud moments.
Why you should avoid this book: The best material in the book is definitely near the end, when the focus is on Sedaris’ adult life – there’s only so much you can do with childhood-related tales before it either gets a little dull or you start to wonder why an eight-year-old kid would bother to read so much meaning into a little trick-or-treating. Not really for people who want a book to go somewhere and mean something – the moral here is more along the lines of ‘it doesn’t matter how old you are, your family will still drive you crazy’ rather than ‘and then we all learned to appreciate each other and we never did anything to annoy each other ever again.’
When my family first moved to North Carolina, we lived in a rented house three blocks from the school where I would begin the third grade. My mother made friends with one of the neighbors, but one seemed enough for her. Within a year we would move again and, as she explained, there wasn’t much point in getting too close to people we would have to say good-bye to. Our next house was less than a mile away, and the short journey would hardly merit tears or even good-byes, for that matter. It was more of a ‘see you later’ situation, but still I adopted my mother’s attitude, as it allowed me to pretend that not making friends was a concious choice. I could if I wanted to. It just wasn’t the right time.
With the money I had left over I got a pair of blue corduroy hip-huggers, which made an ironic statement when worn with the red vest and a white shirt. I love America. Yeah, right!
‘Tell me you’re not wearing that out of the house,’ my mother said. I thought she was in some way jealous. Her youth gone, style was beyond her grasp, and she hated to see me enjoying the things that she could not.
‘Could you please stop hassling me,’ I said.
‘Ooh, hassled, are we?’ She sighed and poured herself a glass of wine from the gallon jug in the pantry. ‘Go on then, Uncle Sam,’ she said. ‘Don’t let me stop you.’
I debuted my new outfit at the Kwik Pik, where once again I ran into the hippie girl. She wasn’t begging this time, just standing with a friend and smoking cigarettes. Hanging out. I nodded hello, and as I passed she called me a teeny-bopper, meaning, in effect, that I was a poseur. The two of them cracked up laughing, and I burned with the particular shame that comes with being fourteen years old and realizing that your mother was right.
The next time he called he was at the counter of a toy store charging a set of
Baby Einstein videos. ‘I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, but this little son of abitch is going to have brains.’
‘Well, it’s sure not going to get them from his parents,’ I said. ‘Kathy hasn’t even gone to the doctor and already you’ve got videos?’
‘A crib, too, and I’ll tell you what, this shit’s expensive as hell.’
‘Well, so is calling France on a cell phone at eleven o’clock on a Wednesday morning,’ I said, though again, I don’t know who I thought I was talking to. My brother can’t survive unless he’s breathing into a telephone. If you’re an enemy, he’ll call only once a day, but if you’re a family member on relatively good speaking terms, you’re guaranteed to hear from him once every eight hours or so.
Also recommended: Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs; The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde; In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.
Also by this author: Barrel Fever; Naked; Holidays on Ice; Me Talk Pretty One Day.
Fun tidbit: Try visiting npr.org to hear some of Sedaris’ archived shows and readings.
Would I read more by this author? Yep. A number of people have told me his older stuff is even funnier, so it looks like it’s time to backtrack.
Â© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007