Rating: 3 out of 5
Well, 2015 has started off on a mediocre foot. The first novel that I read, Invisibility, was a subpar paranormal YA romance, and now I’m disappointed by David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day after hearing such great things for so many years. I’ve got to say that I’m regretting my choice to insert this audiobook combo-breaker after listening to a long list of female comedic memoirs.
Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) is a collection of essays about Sedaris’ childhood in North Carolina, living in New York, and moving to Paris with his boyfriend. He cracks jokes about his Greek Orthodox father and his siblings, whom I knew nothing about except that his sister Amy is also a famous humorist.
I enjoyed the essays that were more self-deprecating, especially about his struggles with language. Whether it was finding creative ways around his lisp as a kid or surviving French lessons with his sadistic instructor, I laughed at his bumbling and atrocious grammatical mistakes. Anyone who has struggled with learning a new language can relate to his verbal roadblocks.
I won’t doubt that Sedaris is a good writer, since it’s obvious that he’s a powerful wordsmith. However, I find issues with Sedaris personally, because to be honest, he didn’t seem like somebody I would enjoy hanging around. Besides his heavy drug use, his adamant refusal to use computers, and his insincere stunt as a creative writing teacher, most of the time he needs–as my mom would put it–an ‘attitude adjustment.’
Sedaris came from a privileged-enough family, raised by a meddling father who forced his children to play musical instruments and constantly berated his daughters about their weight and overall appearance. I’m not saying the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but there were many points in this book where I felt that Sedaris was just plain mean.
Part of this is because he revels in his superiority as a ‘real New Yorker,’ a personality trait which I can’t stomach. NYC is just another city, and living there does not make you automatically smarter and more interesting than anyone else. I hope that becoming an expat–yes, I know he loathes the word–in France instilled a bit of compassion when it comes to dealing with tourists and foreigners.
And even when he’s completely justified, like when a couple of Southern tourists on a train in Paris assumed he didn’t know English and accused him of petty theft, his stories fall flat because there aren’t any punch lines. I kept waiting for him to confront and humiliate the rude couple, but that never happened and instead he goes along his way without a word. His essays include a lot of buildup, but little payoff.
I may be one of the few people who dislike Sedaris, but unless he’s eaten a giant slice of humble pie in the 15 years since publishing this book, I’ll stick to writers who can make people laugh without putting others down–or if comparing him to other caustic yet relatable comedians like Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman, at least do a better job about hiding the fact that you think you’re better than everyone.
I’d love to get your thoughts, though! Is Sedaris a literary genius, a pretentious bully, neither, or both? Is his writing any different in his other books, or more of the same? Should I give him another chance?