Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris, Little, Brown and Company, 2004, 257 pages.
At 47, David
Sedaris is finally starting to grow up.
Yes, that’s right, 47. David Sedaris was born on Dec. 26, 1956.
Through his magnificent tales, mostly recounted on NPR via the PRI show This American Life, he has seemed eternally young. From his stint as an elf in the Macy’s Santaland to his adventures as a non-francophone in France to the stories of his large family and occasionally troubled youth, it’s easy to assume that Sedaris has spent the last decade or two as a perpetual late-20-something. But his age, and some degree of maturity and wisdom, has begun to bleed into his work.
In Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, the perpetually lost Sedaris has developed roots. From his father and sisters to his very permanent boyfriend Hugh, we get a sense of a fuller Sedaris, one who has learned some things from all his adventures.
The book covers two time periods—Sedaris’ distant youth and the present, often both in the same story.
Perhaps the best example of this—and the book’s best piece—is Sedaris’ description of his brother’s wedding—an elaborate affair that included all of the living members of the Sedaris family as well as a great many dogs. As Sedaris explaines: “Paul’s friends…had also brought their pets, which howled and whined and clawed at the sliding glass doors. This was what happened to people who didn’t have children, who didn’t even know people who had children. The flower girl was in heat. The rehearsal dinner included both canned and dry food, and when my brother proposed a toast to his ‘beautiful bitch,’ everyone assumed he was talking about the pug.”
Though earlier books have touched on the wackiness of his large family (including long pieces on the death of his mother), this book goes deeper into true tales of discord. He tells the story of how his father kicked him out of the house for being gay (though Sedaris didn’t realize that that was why he was being asked to leave). He hints at problems in his parents’ marriage deeper than the usual exhaustion. He talks about his sister Tiffany’s stint at reform school. And surprisingly, despite all this Serious Subject Matter and introspection, he’s still quite funny.
Of course, there are still lots of lighter-than-whipped-cream tales of modern life (an extended apartment search where the best apartment he finds is the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam). All this focus on family seems to have done nothing to dull Sedaris’ wit—he’s as heartless at pointing out the absurdity in his parents, sisters and boyfriends as he ever was with the worlds of retail and avant-garde art.
2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH