Sedaris rides the edge of humour

Heather Allen takes a look at David Sedaris' latest book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

David Sedaris is the king of strange book titles. Most of his past humorous essay collections — Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim and Me Talk Pretty One Day — raise an eyebrow at book clubs.

If heads aren’t turned by the titles, then they are by the dark, irreverent and sometimes downright cruel humor in the pages within. Sedaris’ latest collection, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, is true to form. Along with the ridiculous title, the book revisits his usual themes — being an outsider, as a child, as a gay man, and as an American living abroad.

Sedaris’ past five books have all been New York Times bestsellers. His latest is set to do the same. This awkward boy from Raleigh, North Carolina has gone on to become a comic literary phenomenon. He’s odd, and maybe even a bit hard to like. But he is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is as amusing as his previous works, but his self-deprecating humour seems to have expanded to cover a broader range of emotions. In one vignette, he feels remorse for torturing turtles as a child. In another, he describes the bliss of being in the recovery room, fresh from a colonoscopy.

Strange? Yes. In cases such as the colonoscopy, a visit to the dentist or his catalogue of unsanitary restaurants,  Sedaris stays just this side of giving too much information. Fortunately, the comedic timing of his stories is perfect.

While almost all the stories were impeccable, I was occasionally bothered by one-liners that raised questions Sedaris doesn’t bother to answer. At one point he casually mentions that he’s left two wives and his kids on the other side of the ocean. For someone who’s publicly examined so much of his life, I wondered if there wasn’t a bit more to say there.

In addition to his essays, Sedaris includes six monologues written from the perspective of characters unlike himself. These fictionalized rants against things like Obama and gay marriage are certainly witty, but I wondered if they were just a bit out of place in the collection,  something like a wrestler thrown into a ballet.

Aside from these few inconsistencies, this Sedaris collection is a worthy read. His voice and outlook on the world are entirely unique. For a kid who sounds like he didn’t have many friends, he isn’t worried about offending and casting off a few more. Above all else, readers can’t help — while laughing out loud — admiring Sedaris’ honesty and bravery when writing about some of life’s most private and embarrassing moments.

Heather Allen is a writer and reader who lives in Penticton. allenh@telus.net