Friday, March 8, 2013

Me Talk Pretty One Day: Very Entertaining Essays

Imagine Garrsion Keillor ditching Lake Wobegon, moving to the city, his perspective dirtied by the ugliness of everyday life, and you’ve got a pretty good picture what David Sedaris is all about.  His biting, New York-infused, commentary mixed with a folksy Carolina sensibility form an improbable but illuminating insight that’s highly appealing.  In his book Me Talk Pretty One Day his talents are on full display and the result is one of the most entertaining collections of essays we’ve read in a great while.

Sedaris, who moved to North Carolina as kid and, in his own words “relentlessly made fun of [his] new neighbors and their backwards, poky way of life,” remains thoroughly grounded in this world; even after escaping to New York and progressing through various life chapters that include: failed furniture mover, failed student, failed drug abuser, failed performance artist, among other amusing endeavors.  Through it all, Raleigh remains Sedaris’ baseline, his metric of normalcy and right in whatever foreign environ.  And he is one of the few people on planet earth that can straddle between Appalachia and The Meat Packing District, with one foot deeply rooted in each terrain.

But under the veneer of humor, there’s a subtle and enduring allusion to sadness and melancholy lurking just beneath the surface.  The death of his mother, economic difficulties, concern for his family, and an apparent fear of loneliness that’s familiar to us all.  Fortunately, this buried sorrow is never overwhelming and maintaining the balance between humor and poignancy provides just the right depth and complexity to his writing.  It’s not frivolous and it’s not depressing, it’s a comfortable amalgamation of the two; funny, thoughtful and filling all at the same time.

In one of the more memorable essays (The Great Leap Forward) he chronicles the excess of New York in a hilarious recollection of his time working as an “assistant” to a wealthy Colombian heiress.  And in another (You Can’t Kill the Rooster) he tackles the subject of his mother’s death by taking us into the white trash world of his lawn-mowing brother whom is affectionately known as “The Rooster.”  And what’s remarkable is how he effortlessly he steps between the two worlds.

The author mines his family life for much of his inspiration.  Indeed, his father and siblings are central to his writing and provides a solid foundation that prevents his work from becoming simply a snarky Seinfeld episode about life in the city.  The connection to family anchors the work in compassion and provides substance to some of the more whimsical subject matter. 

David Sedaris is widely recognized for his social commentary and witty essays.  Me Talk Pretty One Day was a #1 national bestseller when released in 2000, and Time magazine named Sedaris “Humorist of the Year.”  Just about everything he writes reaches bestseller status and he’s been nominated for multiple Grammys for his readings and public radio work.  He is arguably this generation’s greatest essayist and chronicler of American life and anything he produces is worth checking out.