July 15th, 2014

the red queen.

Review: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls
by David Sedaris

In his latest collection of essays, David Sedaris combs his childhood for more appalling stories about his family, from his father's refusal to wear pants at the dinner table to his penchant for adopting wild animals as pets and killing them off with his child's ignorance about how to care for them. Sedaris also dives into the present, chronicling his obsessive diary-writing, his quest to find a taxidermy owl for his boyfriend's Valentine's Day present (and his near-purchase of a Pygmy skeleton along the way), and collecting odd little trinkets like condoms or hotel shampoo bottles to give away at book signings. In the final section, he writes several short fiction pieces for students participating in Forensics, short monologues recited aloud at competitions.

I have enjoyed David Sedaris' past books, always in audio format because half the humor is in the man's delivery of his own essays. He reads his stories with such careful precision, that perfect mix of self-deprecation and deadpan delivery, that lines which might only earn a smile in print will set me cracking up until I'm bent over, gasping like a fish out of water. Many of the essays here are Sedaris in fine form. One of my favorite essays this time around was “Rubbish”, in which he describes the new country cottage he and Hugh (his long-time partner) purchase in the English countryside, and his quest to keep his new home garbage-free, a problem because people driving down the road in front of it seem hellbent on chucking crisp bags and soda bottles out the window. The frustration he feels and the pathos of the situation is very real, but it's so funny when he describes what, in another writer's words, would be a very uninteresting, even boring story.

As always, there's at least one story focused on his father, Lou Sedaris. This time, in “Memory Laps”, Sedaris recalls his childhood swim meets, where his father when inevitably end up cheering and praising one of the other swimmers instead of his own son. In another essay, his father constantly badgers him to get a colonoscopy, not out of paternal concern but out of a more sinister desire to watch his son suffer, Lou's desire akin to rubbernecking at a train wreck.

So these essays are very much in the style of Sedaris' earlier books, and if you like his particular style of narcissistic wit, go to it.

Where the book started flailing and ultimately failed for me was in the short fiction pieces toward the end. Here, Sedaris seemed to turn the pen over to his most petty and catty impulses, and the result is a series of shrill whining as he imagines the point of view of a Britain-obsessed teenage girl, conservative middle-aged woman, and other small-minded people filled with bitterness and bile. My husband was simply gobsmacked; only a few essays before this started he'd been praising Sedaris for finding humor without resorting to time-sensitive or political humor. It was a very disappointing end to the first collection of essays Sedaris has put out in five years.

3 out of 5 stars

To read more about Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: The Twice Lost (Lost Voices #3) by Sarah Porter
2012: Flower in a Storm Vol. 2 by Shigeyoshi Takagi
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while...
2010: News: Book 'Ark' at the V&A
2009: Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson
2008: Women of the Bible: Jael's Story by Ann Burton