When reading David Sedaris’ book “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, we wonder, just as we do with any book, the truth behind the writing. And as individual readers, we decide if the power of the story lies in the validity of its depictions, if this matters at all, and thus learn from the images that the author portrays; truths or not. On page 147, we see the first assertion that Sedaris makes about the truths in his novel. In the section entitled, “Repeat After Me”, he has returned to his sister Lisa’s house for a visit. And while there, we see the tension of their relationship because of his job as a journalist. Lisa fears that anything she tells David will be repeated and published in the media. David is acutely aware of this and thus says:
“In my mind, I’m like a friendly junkman, building things from little pieces of scrap that I find here and there, but my family’s started to see things differently. Their personal lives are the so-called pieces of scrap so I casually pick up, and they’re sick of it.” (Sedaris, 147)
In this important paragraph, we can’t help but wonder how much of Sedaris’ tale is actually true. The comedy in his literature lies in the complexity of the characters and the way that we relate to them as people with similar situations. When reading this book, we laugh, and in our laughter, we find ourselves reminiscent also of the reliability of the work as it pertains to our lives. The relationships between characters are memorable of our own relationships.
I am moved here to consider the common phrase that people utter (and Sedaris implies) under several different circumstances, ranging from different situations and stemming from different character interactions. When we say, “it wasn’t funny then, but its funny now” or “I didn’t think it was funny when it happened, but looking back I think its quite hilarious!” These example of things that we often say show us that humor is entirely situational. Something extremely serious can later be extremely funny and I wonder, how does this work? Perhaps the consequences of a serious situation dictate whether humor is not only acceptable, but necessary. Sedaris, I believe plays into our understanding of humor by portraying situations that are perhaps not funny when they are occurring (in actuality they are ridiculous, hurtful, embarrassing, scary etc) but we can laugh about them now, just as Sedaris can. Sedaris holds the key to permitting our laughter. He understands that we must be allowed to laugh, and in writing this book he gives us this permission. We often relate to what Sedaris is saying, and perhaps our own similar situations were not funny at the time, but we can laugh about it now.
Sedaris’ book is a play on our understandings of our past and the situations we find ourselves in. Laughter functions to defuse, it functions to help us understand, and it helps us to forgive and love. It helps us to recognize that our situations are similar to others, and that we are connected by the same emotions of frustration, embarrassment. Further, from these emotions we understand that laughter is a way to not only forgive those who have embarrassed us in the past, but love them all the more for it.