Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bread, Circuses, and Tragedy?

“Catch your flies with honey,” is the very tactic Dave Sedaris uses to hook readers to his collection of essays about his early years and his family, but something that cliché leaves out is the administration of the vinegar after the flies are captured. The second half of Sedaris’ memoir is still rich with his particular brand of dry and oftentimes dark humor yet seems to strike a more serious nerve in the reader.
The most poignant example comes at the end of the chapter titled “Repeat After Me.” At first the title seems to indicate the parrot who can only repeat the common phrases of its owner; however, at the end it is implied that Dave tries to teach the parrot to repeat “Forgive me.” This is given more weight as it follows Dave’s thoughts on the upcoming movie which as it turns out was cancelled by himself precisely for the worries he voices towards the end of the chapter. Each page still contains humorous moments, such as when he tries to write down his sister’s story about a wounded animal and a pillowcase out of habit. Even so, the interactions between the Sedaris family begin to take on that deeper sense of care, and the love that might have seemed more frivolous in the beginning is no longer taken for granted.
The final straw comes with the chapter titled “Baby Einstein.” Dave’s description of his brother Paul, who went largely unmentioned throughout the book, now takes the spotlight in all his crude and foulmouthed glory, and despite all the joking and blunt portrayals of Paul’s slobbish behavior the last section brings water to my eyes at the idea that a daughter might remember all the times her father stayed up all night to care for her. The following chapter ends the novel nicely on a similar note to Candide, almost too similarly: Dave’s final words are those of a man content with his dwelling place because it is his and pleasing to him, regardless of what someone else might think.

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