David Sedaris’ “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” part I

Next up is David Sedaris’ latest book of essays, “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” and I ripped through the first 84 pages within a day or two of picking it up.

First off: I have no idea what the title means. None at all. I suspect I’ll have an inkling at completion of the book – and I’ll be actively thinking about it while I’m reading the rest of the way – but for now my best guesses even come up short.

That aside, from the first essay in the book – titled “Dentists Without Borders” – it’s pretty vintage Sedaris. Witty, sarcastic, pointed humor, poignant undertones, playful, intentionally or unintentionally (hard to tell) melancholy at times.

For me – and this may be an odd and possibly inaccurate way of describing this – the most enjoyable part of reading Sedaris is the range of emotions he drags you through. At the top, he’s brilliantly funny. Brilliant.

Take this bit from Chapter 2 – “Attaboy” – where Sedaris is comparing the brutal parenting he received as a child to the softer variation he witnesses now:

There was no negotiating, no “parenting” the way there is now. All these young mothers chauffeuring their volcanic three-year-olds through the grocery store. The child’s name always sounds vaguely presidential, and he or she tends to act accordingly.

“Mommy hears what you’re saying about treats,” the woman will say, “but right now she needs you to let go of her hair and put the chocolate-covered Life Savers back where they came from.”

“No!” screams McKinley or Madison, Kennedy or Lincoln or beet-faced baby Reagan. Looking on, I always want to intervene. “Listen,” I’d like to say, “I’m not a parent myself, but I think the best solution at this point is to slap that child across the face. It won’t stop its crying, but at least now it’ll be doing it for a good reason.”

I don’t know how these couples do it, spend hours each night tucking their kids in, reading them books about misguided kittens or seals who wear uniforms, and then rereading them if the child so orders. In my house, our parents put us to bed with two simple words: “Shut up.”

I am almost spit out my water when I read that.

It was a legitimate moment of joy, the kind that doesn’t come too often for me when reading, the kind where all outside thoughts that like to trickle through my mind in the middle of a page – that make me go back and reread the entire last paragraph at times – totally dissipate. That’s the best part of reading Sedaris.

At the basin of the Sedaris Emotional Spectrum is a heavy loneliness usually delivered through the distance between Sedaris and his family, most prominently his father.

In Chapter 4 (“Memory Laps”), Sedaris recalls growing up in Raleigh and earnestly searching for his father’s approval. Of course, he never seems to capture it. Whatever he does – swimming competitions, school, even growing up and writing a best-selling book – is met with condescending barbs from his father.

You never get the sense that Sedaris believes his father doesn’t love him, only that he rarely, if ever, feels that love. From the chapter:

It’s not my father’s approval that troubles me but my childlike hope that maybe this time it will last. He likes that I’ve started swimming again, so maybe he’ll also like the house I bought (“Boy, they sure saw you coming”) or the sports coat I picked up on my last trip to Japan (“You look like a goddamn clown”).

Greg Sakas would have got the same treatment eventually, as would any of the other would-be sons my father pitted me against throughout my adolescence. Once they got used to the sweet taste of his approval, he’d have no choice but to snatch it away, not because of anything they did but because it is in his nature. The guy sees a spark and just can’t help but stomp it out.

There’s a density to Sedaris’ writing, wrapped in a quilt of quick-witted one-liners, that settles heavily in your chest once the comedy stops.

I guess that’s what ultimately makes his work enjoyable and satisfying. Without that emotion, this book of essays would be like any other frivolous collection of pages that deliver laughs without an anchor. Hopefully the remaining chapters of this book uphold that same standard.

Left off: Page 86

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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1 Response to David Sedaris’ “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” part I

  1. Pingback: “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” part II: David Sedaris’ book of essays | Western Sideline

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