David Sedaris’ previous book, a collection of fictional animal stories called Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, may have worried some of his longtime fans. Had the lovable curmudgeon, famous for his sidesplitting essays about his family’s dysfunction and his misspent youth, abandoned memoir for imaginary stories (however funny and bizarre) about talking animals? After he’d hit the big time—best-selling books, sold-out live performances, homes in England and France—had his own life become too comfortable to be funny?
This latest collection of (mostly) autobiographical essays should put any such worries to rest. Although his life is certainly much happier now than when he was hooked on drugs or working as a department store elf, Sedaris still finds plenty of absurdity in the airports, hotels, book tours and vacation-home renovations that now fill his days. Sedaris is the sort of writer who can make standing in line at a coffee shop an occasion for gleeful, vicarious outrage (and in less time than it takes to steam a cappuccino).
As in his previous book, there are plenty of animals here, though none of them talk. Stuffed owls, mangled roosters, melting sea turtles, skewered mice and a graceful kookaburra populate these pages like the inmates of a psychopath’s barnyard. There are other kinds of beasts here as well. There is his father storming, capricious and pantless, through Sedaris’ childhood. There are the despicable, heartless fanatics whom Sedaris imagines and inhabits in the book’s few fictional pieces. And there is Sedaris himself, so candid about his own moral failings that you almost want to hug him and tell him he’s really not so terrible, even if he did once consider displaying a stuffed Pygmy in his living room.
All this is vintage Sedaris: sharp, strange, moving and funny—proof, if any were needed, that success is no barrier to absurdity and that humans are the strangest talking animals of all.