David Sedaris goes to the dentist. David Sedaris gets a colonoscopy. David Sedaris nearly bursts into tears when a British immigration officer grills him about his visa to the UK.
These seemingly everyday scenarios can only be related with panache by American humorist David Sedaris and he doesn’t disappoint in Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, his eighth collection of essays.
Sedaris’ pieces have always been about the ordinary, sometimes inane, situations in life and the people he encounters — and of course, his family continues to be his muse. His father, now 90, a curmudgeon we’ve grown to love over the years, because he’s such an amusing man without meaning to be, lives alone, goes to spinning classes four times a week, has excellent memory, and never spent a night in the hospital. The secret, he says, is eating seven gin-soaked raisins a day.
The junior Sedaris is desperate for his father’s approval in “Memory Laps” as he reminisces his time on the swim team, when he wished he would get some acknowledgment from his dad. It leads him to remember that most of his childhood he heard his father say, “You know what you are? You’re a big fat zero.” “I’ll show you, I remember thinking. Proving him wrong was what got me out of bed every morning,” he writes. “I remember calling in the summer of 2008 to tell him my book was number one on the Times bestseller list. ‘Well it’s not number one on the Wall Street Journal,’ he said. ‘That’s not really the list that book people turn to,’ I told him. ‘The hell it isn’t,’ he said. ‘I turn to it.’ ‘And you’re a book person?’ [He replied] ‘I read. Sure.’”
In “Happy Place” we hear how Sedaris Senior has been pestering his son to get a colonoscopy since the age of 21 and the junior finally relents at age 50 something, when he agrees to get one as a Christmas present, for his father. Needless to say, the procedure is described with the great hilarity we’ve come to expect from Sedaris.
In this collection of essays, which is about the present as well as recollections of childhood, there’s less Sedaris goofball and more Sedaris the grown up. This reflects the writer’s growth, like when he talks about his African American school friend that he meets again years later in “A Friend in the Ghetto.” Also, there’s a sadness that stands out from his other work. Sedaris is still funny but don’t expect to howl out in laughter like you did in Naked.
This collection also includes six monologues that Sedaris explains in his author’s note he wrote for students to perform. They are fiction so they stand out from the rest of the personal narratives that is classic Sedaris but they’re short and funny. There’s the man who reacts violently upon hearing that gay marriage has been legalised, the woman who writes a thank you note for pizza vouchers and in the course of the letter we learn just who is the nasty person and the monologue of a Christian letting us know what it would be like if they ruled the world.
In the excellent essay “Obama!!!!!,” we are reminded just how astute Sedaris is in his observations, in this case on current events. He writes about Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and how, as he travelled throughout Europe, he was met with people who’d say that Americans would never vote for a black president and how it grated him because (among other reasons) in France, it’s considered rude to tell people who you voted for, yet they wanted to talk about the 2008 American elections all the time. He was constantly asked if he was going to vote for Obama or McCain. “I said to Hugh, they have to ask? I mean really, you’d hope it would be evident,” he writes.
Sedaris is not shy to talk about the race issue either. “I was in London during the inauguration and watched the ceremony on the BBC, which reminded me every three seconds that Barack Obama was black and would become America’s first black president. At first I thought that this was for blind people, a little reminder in case they forgot.” Sedaris is also forthright in his impressions on China in “#2 to Go” and makes no bones about how thoroughly disappointed he is with the food for one, and the phlegm he encountered, as well as the turds, everywhere. Sedaris’ observations are unabashedly hilarious at a time when people may tiptoe around stating things that may offend but he never does; he just makes you laugh. Take his observation on Australia: “For an American though, Australia seems pretty familiar: same wide streets, same office towers. It’s Canada in a thong, or that’s the initial impression.”
My favorite essay was “Cold Case” in which Sedaris writes about losing his passport in Hawaii and having to apply for another Indefinite Leave residence permit in the UK, where he lives. The process is cumbersome and he’s forced to cancel travel plans while he waits for his passport with the residence stamp. The troubles he encounters on his return to the UK made me laugh out loud. But that could be because I’m a Pakistani passport holder and enjoyed reading that even David Sedaris is not immune from the meanness of immigration officers.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
By David Sedaris
Little, Brown and Company