David Sedaris - When You Are Engulfed in Flames (4 stars)

David Sedaris


(Little, Brown)

A criticism often aimed at writers once they reach the publication of their third or fourth book, is that they forget all the things that endeared them to the book-buying public in the first place, and either become wildly self-indulgent or stale and repetitive. It’s an accusation that could never be directed at David Sedaris, whose latest collection of humorous essays is as fresh and blithely funny as best-selling collections Naked and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

Anyone familiar with these earlier collections of deadpan memories and reflections will recognise many of the characters and settings here. There’s Sedaris’ punctilious father Lou who, in one segment, is discovered attempting to coax the young David into wearing a bow tie (‘“Come on,” he said. “Live a little!”’). Long-suffering, long-term boyfriend Hugh also appears frequently, with the parasitic worm that once inhabited Hugh’s mother Maw Hamrick’s leg providing the basis for the opening essay. Elsewhere, Sedaris indulges in a day-trip around his idealised Princeton University, and spins a hilarious yarn about his relationship with a former landlady, who shared his love of 40s couture.

In one tale, Sedaris describes himself lying on the couch in his Parisian apartment, eavesdropping on the arguments of tourists in the streets below. It’s Sedaris’ capacity to transform the tiny encounters, everyday absurdities and fragmented recollections of life into warped but strangely familiar treatises that make him such a popular and compelling writer.


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