Just Bare It All.
This summer a patron and I did a book swap. The first line did not necessarily draw me in, but as I continued reading, I experienced some momentary foresight into what I had cracked open. It was Pandora’s Box of hilarity, cynicism, and my newfound obsession with David Sedaris. The book: Naked.
His life story had somehow, rather brilliantly, been stripped of banal, mundane experiences, yet was no different from the typical dysfunctional family saga. First, the father—a hardworking man from a devout Greek Orthodox family—was an archetype of a man that worked all the time to provide for his ever growing flock. Although his father provided dutifully for his family, a socially acceptable pursuit in his eyes, his affection came with discount rate, and an air of indignant authority. In one scene at a fast-food restaurant, you got a sense of Sedaris Sr.'s lively character:
“Bullshit,” he’d shout. “That’s not what you want.” When arguing, it was always his tactic to deny the validity of our request. If you wanted, say, a stack of pancakes, he would tell you not that you couldn’t have them but that you never really wanted them in the first place. “I know what I want” was always met with “No you don’t.”
Sedaris managed to recap many absurd moments with his family and turned them into a well-depicted satire that felt relatable and intimate. You can imagine the scene at this economical restaurant: the quiet tipsy mother eyeing the booze section of the menu; the father budget ordering for everyone; and all six children clamoring around the table attempting jiu-jitsu moves on each other with their silverware. Other diners silently judged them with their eyes as they ate their hard steaks, but for Sedaris, he was crafting his art by this very experience.
One person that was seen and heard the most was the maternal figure Sharon Sedaris: a fast-talking sarcastic woman who seemed to always greet you with a cocktail and a cigarette in her hands. As the vignettes trudged forward, you got a sense that Sedaris lived for his mother’s attention. Her parenting at times was questionable, but fascinating and humorous. It seemed as though her entire life was a series of events that reminded her of her doomed fate in a wacky domestic sphere of motherhood. But Sedaris clearly paid justice to the woman whom he secretly admired and respected. He presented her character with piercing honesty and affectionate contempt. The image you are left with was of a woman who did her best to raise a big family without turning herself inside out, and in the end you sense where Sedaris got his fierce cynicism and wit.
Sedaris’s personal journey was clearly centered on the many kooky characters he met on his way to adulthood. For instance, the quadriplegic girl that he hiked up and down the East Coast with. Their friendship was an unlikely symbiosis, depended on getting free rides, motel rooms, and their dinner bills picked up by complete strangers acting as good Samaritans. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary that Sedaris befriended a socially outcasted, handicapped girl that would grant him a strange bond in his young life. But it did not mean that we should categorize Sedaris as a good natured soul. He was a growing narcissist, and noticed that his life was nothing but a series of peculiar, traumatic events that had therefore led to other odd occurrences.
His hitchhiking stint across the country was undeniably the most compulsive and engrossing read I had ever encountered. Most of it seemed unbelievable, but it was his point of view on the myriad of strangers he encountered that drew me in. The intimate experience of being in his head while perceiving the uncanny breeds that make up rural America was precisely why I was fascinated by Naked. The stabbing self-centered reflection readers got from Sedaris is the kind of honesty that takes guts to put down on paper, yet I had soaked it all in, and vicariously shared his spirited humor.
This past summer what I had gained from Sedaris’s hilarious memoir was that in spite of any hardships in life, you gotta have humor, or else you’ll die a slow boring death. Just bare it all and get naked.