People Change

Barrel Fever by David Sedaris

Grade: B-

David Sedaris and I probably don’t have that much in common. He’s a guy from the South, and I’m a gal from the North. He’s a good 16 years my senior, having been born roughly between my generation and my mother’s. Maybe that’s why he reminds me of both my mother and myself, and why he makes me think of what she and I would be like if we were smushed together into a male body and given a pen. That’s a really frightening image, but funny, too, if you think that kind of thing is funny. In any event, we can sum up my feelings about David Sedaris with this one phrase: “I don’t know why, but I get his sense of humor.”

We all need our humorists. I feel the loss of Kurt Vonnegut especially keenly these days. Someone has to take his place. Someone must interpret the madness of the modern world for me and tell me that it’s all just a big, dark, ugly joke. I’m calling on David Sedaris to be that humorist for me right now.

By and large he’s doing the job. Just a few months ago I read a piece he wrote for The Paris Review about the election of Donald Trump. In the same way that he found comfort in saying, “I’m not alone. I’ve got Cher,” I found comfort in saying, “I’ve got David Sedaris.” Everything is OK, because David Sedaris is laughing with me about this big, dark, ugly joke.

Today’s David is working for me, and I’m happy. But yesterday’s David wasn’t, and Barrel Fever belongs to that yesterday. The stories just didn’t work for me. I’m okay with that.

So I don’t recommend Barrel Fever except for the final essay, Santaland Diaries, which is hysterical, if not entirely PC by today’s standards. But I recommend David Sedaris in general as one of the humorists who can help to keep us sane in these crazy days.

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