Caught out by the un­re­li­able mem­oirs of a

Let’s Ex­plore Di­a­betes with Owls

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Mark Dapin

By David Sedaris Lit­tle, Brown, 275pp, $29.99

IOWE an apol­ogy to David Sedaris, al­though I don’t sup­pose he’ll care ei­ther way. There is a funny pas­sage in Author Author, an es­say in this col­lec­tion, in which Sedaris writes about book tours.

He says he has de­cided to ask a ran­dom ques­tion of ev­ery reader who comes up to have a book signed.

He has been sign­ing in Bos­ton ‘‘ for al­most six hours’’ when a woman comes up to him and his mind goes blank, and all he can think to say is, ‘‘ When did you last touch a mon­key?’’

‘‘ I ex­pected ‘ Never’,’’ he writes, ‘‘ or ‘ It’s been years’, but in­stead she took a step back, say­ing ‘ Oh, can you smell it on me?’ ’’

It’s a good gag, un­ex­pected, orig­i­nal and beau­ti­fully timed. It’s got ev­ery­thing, even mon­keys. But Sedaris goes on to write: The young woman’s name was Jennifer, and it turned out that she worked for Help­ing Hands, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that trains mon­key to toil as slaves for paral­ysed peo­ple. At her in­vi­ta­tion, I vis­ited the fa­cil­ity out­side Bos­ton and spent a pleas­ant af­ter­noon hav­ing my pock­ets picked by some of the clev­erer stu­dents.

There’s no need for that. Such a pro­gram couldn’t pos­si­bly ex­ist and the de­ceit spoils the plea­sure of what’s gone be­fore.

It’s one thing to re­count hon­est sto­ries about funny in­ci­dents in your life, and an­other to just make them up.

If Sedaris is go­ing to write about stuff that didn’t hap­pen, he might as well in­vent a char­ac­ter who isn’t David Sedaris, and give him­self per­mis­sion to fabri­cate hi­lar­i­ous satir­i­cal sce­nar­ios — as he does else­where in Let’s Ex­plore Di­a­betes with Owls in a bril­liant piece ti­tled I Break for Tra­di­tional Mar­riage.

The nar­ra­tor, Ran­dolph Denny, falls into de­spair when he hears ‘‘ nearby New York’’ has passed a referendum le­gal­is­ing gay mar­riage. Al­though he has been mar­ried to Brenda for ‘‘ go­ing on 39 years’’, sud­denly, ‘‘ it was all just mean­ing­less: our wed­ding, or an­niver­saries, even our love’’. ‘‘ Who are we?’’ Brenda cried. And I looked at her think­ing, What do you mean, ‘‘ we’’?

Ran­dolph shoots his wife and daugh­ter in the head be­cause ‘‘ if ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is no longer a sin, then who’s to say that mur­der is?’’ He lis­tens to talk­back pro­gram where a caller re­mem­bers, ‘‘ As a boy we had this joke ... Your buddy might say, ‘ I love this pep­per­oni pizza’, and you’d say, ‘ Why don’t you marry it then?’ ’’

But since even gays can marry each other, ‘‘ I guess now you re­ally could tie the knot with a pizza’’, the caller rea­sons. This leads Ran­dolph to con­sider elop­ing with his neigh­bour’s rideon mower. But he sus­pects the au­thor­i­ties will prob­a­bly close the loop­hole that al­lows men to wed ma­chines.

Sedaris has form in mat­ters of un­re­li­a­bil­ity. National Pub­lic Ra­dio in the US has re­clas­si­fied as fic­tion some of his early es­says such as San­taLand Di­aries, sup­pos­edly an ac­count of the author’s time work­ing as a Christ­mas elf in Macy’s depart­ment store.

This is sad, be­cause truly great comic writ­ers don’t elab­o­rate or em­bel­lish, they strip things down to their core. And Sedaris can be a truly great comic writer. There’s some lovely ob­ser­va­tional hu­mour in Let’s Ex­plore Di­a­betes with Owls. On lit­ter in Lon­don, Sedaris ob­serves: The idea is that if you put some­thing on a wall or stuff it be­tween the slats of a fence, it doesn’t count. Like it’s only re­ally lit­ter

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.