I just love David Sedaris. I'm not sure where I first heard him; maybe This American Life, maybe on Letterman. It doesn't matter. His stories are compelling and amusing. Engaging. He speaks of his current travels in this world
and of his family, who must get sick of his relating all their foibles to the world and making a decent living at it. At this point in my life, Sedaris has replaced rock concerts as the live performance of choice. I've seen him once so far but plan to see him again. I'll even buy a black shirt with a silkscreened portrait on it if they sell it. I'll have to hold myself back from shouting "Do stadium pal!!!" while waving a lighter in the air. Maybe I'm biased.
A few weeks ago, I got the notion that it must be time for another Sedaris book and I looked. By now you know that my spidey-senses weren't playing tricks with me. When You Are Engulfed in Flames does not disappoint. The unifying thread running through the book is
Sedaris's recent parting of ways with his decades-long cigarette habit. He hints at it throughout,
then finishes the book with 2-1/2 hours of his final breakup with the coffin nails. He lets us in on his mother's lung cancer;
in the past, he's not looked at it directly (denial?).
There are four live performances here as well, which is good news - the energy an audience lends really helps the performances. "Solution to Saturday's Puzzle" brings to light the inner dialog we all experience in day-to-day interactions, especially negative ones.
Seated next to Becky, Sedaris accidentally sneezes a cough drop onto her lap. An
earlier altercation with her has him terrifically conflicted about how to handle the situation. During the altercation, he fills in the Saturday
New York Times crossword with unfavorable terms to describe her.
"Adult Figures Charging Toward A Concrete Toadstool" describes a time during which
Sedaris's family became interested in investing in art. It was a subject he knew barely anything about, and his family took his interest and assimilated it in their own annoying way.
"April in Paris" describes his befriending a spider, feeding it by hand but in the end realizing that maybe it's best not to interfere with nature.
If you've enjoyed Sedaris's past work, you will love When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I'm sure the written version is excellent in its own way, but for my money the performances are the way to go. I will certainly be listening to it again