After being disappointed with Me Talk Pretty One Day, I was pretty hesitant to pick up When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. I’ve managed to avoid reading any reviews or listen to any discussion about this book until I had a chance to read it and review it without any subliminal bias. I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly amused with his latest bouts of humorous anecdotes of his seemingly mundane life. I found this collection of essays to be more mature in quality and in presentation. It didn’t feel as if Sedaris was making a joke just for the joke’s sake. His timing and sense of humor is very balanced and accurate, which reflects what many of us non-writers often feel and think when trapped in similar situations. Who hasn’t sat next to a grump on a plane, or had to deal with an elderly, paranoid, yet aggressively bossy next door neighbor?
Although each chapter was entertaining, there were a few that stood out from the rest. Although each was filled with the expected Sedaris humor, these chapters were a bit more insightful. One example is from the chapter That’s Amore in which Sedaris gives a good description of Helen , the bossy next door neighbor:
“To Helen, a gift was not something you gave to person number one, but something you didn’t give to person number two. This is how we wound up with a Singer sewing machine, the kind built into a table. A woman on the third floor made her own clothes and, in her own quiet way, had asked if she could have it” (p87).
Sedaris forms a unique connection to Helen and soon becomes probably her only friend and life-line after she suffers a series of strokes that soon lead to her death. Sedaris is able to be witty and observant of questionable behavior of himself and those surrounding him without being cruel. What I find interesting with Sedaris’ collections is that each book delves into a specific aspect of his life. His earlier books focused on his childhood and family situation. Although he doesn’t make references to his previous publications, I still feel as if I’ve grown with up him as his writing has matured and his stories have ranged from his childhood well into his adulthood. He seems more relaxed with himself, and dare I say slightly less cynical of all human beings around him. The chapters went though an odd progression of first being very family oriented, and then drifting to be more about Sedaris and his boyfriend Hugh. Sedaris also spent a few chapters meditative on his solitary observations of life, events such as sitting in only your boxers in a hospital waiting room, or befriending the reclusive and somewhat repulsive people in the United States and in France.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If anyone would ask me which Sedaris books to read, I would point blank say:
FINAL GRADE: A
*****************When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris LIttle, Brown and Company, 2008 ISBN 0316143472 323 pages