David Sedaris has an unmistakable voice -- high, reedy and more than a little bit mischievous, it leaps out at you on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," where he is a semi-regular commentator. (He's the only soul who doesn't seem to be drowning in a Sargasso Sea of Sincerity.) Unlike most of NPR's on-air personalities, Sedaris' voice translates to paper. His first book, Barrel Fever (1993), was a memorably prickly collection of autobiographical comic essays. The book's best piece, "The SantaLand Diaries," detailed Sedaris' experiences as a disgruntled elf in a Macy's Christmas tableau -- it's become a minor classic of holiday fear and loathing.
Sedaris' second collection, Naked, contains a similar amount of odd, confessional whimsy. Many of the pieces here are based on Sedaris' memories of his suburban childhood in North Carolina, and they combine an almost David Lynchian strangeness with the plucky wit of Evelyn Waugh. In "Next of Kin," he writes about how, after he finds a cheesy porn novel in the woods, his entire family winds up devouring it. ("A veil had been lifted, especially for Gretchen, who now saw the world as a steaming pit of unbridled sexuality.") In "A Plague of Tics," Sedaris describes how his multiple childhood compulsions made it almost impossible for him to get out of the house. ("After kissing the fourth, eighth, and twelfth carpeted stair, I wiped the cat hair off my lips and proceeded to the kitchen, where I was commanded to stroke the burners of the stove, press my nose against the refrigerator door, and arrange the percolator, toaster, and blender into a straight row.") Other essays here offer even more absurd comedy: A piece called "Dinah, the Christmas Whore" recounts the time Sedaris' sister brought a prostitute home for the holidays. The title story is about his experiences at a low-budget nudist colony.
While none of the pieces here is as devilishly cranky as "The SantaLand Diaries," Naked is ultimately a stronger and more grounded book than Barrel Fever. That's because Sedaris digs deeper into his subjects here, and some of the best essays combine shrewd observation with some genuinely affecting subject matter. In a fairly miraculous piece called "The Women's Open," Sedaris writes about his sister's first period, which occurs on a public golf course. (Their befuddled, hapless father sends the poor girl off for "help" with the first woman he sees.) And an essay titled "Get Your Ya-Ya's Out!" contains some bracing writing about visiting his grandmother at her final nursing home: "Unlike her former home, Mayview made no attempt to disguise the inevitable. There was no talk of one's well-deserved golden years, no rented buses or craft carnivals."
Sedaris is already a noted playwright -- he and his sister Amy write comedies under the name The Talent Family -- and word is he's at work on a novel. I'll be among those in line to buy it. -- Salon
Hilariously entertaining. . . .The essays in Naked re-create the cathartic, the spiritual experience of laughing so hard that it hurts. New York Observer
One of the most talked-about, most enjoyed bestsellers of the year, Naked offers a collection of hilarious, touching, genre-bending vignettes. . .
This collection of biographical stories from playwright and National Public Radio commentator Sedaris are at times heartwarming, poignant, sad, and laugh-out-loud funny. They cover Sedaris's dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the realization that he is gay, his father's overprotective tendencies, his mother's and sister's love for detective shows, how he comes to believe he is like Richard Kimball's Fugitive, and how he and his siblings cope with the realization that their mother is dying of cancer. Read by Sedaris with assistance from his sister Amy, this humorous look at life will make listeners feel as if they are in the closet with David, trying to trap the person who stole money from his father or on the mountaintop where one of his sisters gets married. A wonderful addition to popular collections.Danna C. Bell-Russel, American Univ. Natl. Equal Justice Lib., Washington, D.C.
Brilliant. . .a fresh comic voice. . .There's wisdom in these stories.
If satire were a more revered literary tradition, David Sedaris would be considered an American master, and we might at last lay to rest all those overused references to James Thurber and Nathaniel West...
Sedaris's second collection of stories is a hilarious heap of autobiography that recounts a gay childhood governed by a crabby, whiskey-soaked mother, followed by an adult life plagued by trailer trash and born-again wackos...All these murky memories and high-concept stories are culled from Sedaris's own odd life. But his curmudgeonly comic genius and outrageous wit make them our own as well, a wacked-out set of scenes from our all-too-familiar world.
In this collection of essays, playwright and NPR commentator Sedaris tops his anarchically hilarious miscellany Barrel Fever by inventing a new genre: autobiography as fun-house mirror. From the first sentence ('I'm thinking of asking the servants to wax my change before placing it in the Chinese tank I keep on my dresser'), Naked pretty well clobbers the reader into dizzy submission. Growing up in Raleigh, N.C., Sedaris had disruptive nervous tics that only disappeared once he took up smoking, which, 'despite its health risks, is much more socially acceptable than crying out in tiny voices.' The author volunteered at a mental hospital and spoke solely in Shakespearean English for a spell. One Christmas his sister brought home a co-worker who moonlighted as a prostitute: 'From this moment on, the phrase `ho, ho, ho' would take on a whole different meaning.' Sedaris's best humor is generally rooted in misery: At college he befriended 'a fun girl with a degenerative nerve disease' and confined to a wheelchair, with whom he successfully shoplifted (no one stopped them) and hitchhiked (everyone stopped for them); he astutely illuminates the weird mixture of altruism and vanity that motivated him to become his friend's caretaker. Sedaris's extensive résumé of hitchhiking trips and dire jobs has provided him with an absurd array of distressing incidental characters, like the belligerent, legless Jesus freak for whom he worked making jade clocks in the shape of Oregon. The author's wisecracking mother emerges as a full-blown comic heroine, and the essay discussing the months before her death achieves a brilliant synthesis of solemnity and humor. Only atthe end, when describing a visit to a downscale nudist camp, does Sedaris disappoint, as he seems to have gone on the jaunt solely to acquire filler material. Sedaris applies the same deadpan fastidiousness to his life that Charlie Chaplin applied to his shoe in The Gold Rushthis is splendid stuff.