Friday, March 4, 2011

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
Little, Brown & Company, 2008
Hardcover, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316143479
Highly Recommended

David Sedaris has written yet another book of essays (his sixth). Subjects include a parasitic worm that once lived in his mother-in-law's leg, an encounter with a dingo, and the recreational use of a catheter. Also recounted is the buying of a human skeleton and the author's attempt to quit smoking. In Tokyo.
Master of nothing, at the dead center of his game, Sedaris proves that when you play with matches, you sometimes light the whole pack on fire.
My Thoughts:

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris is his sixth collection of humorous essays. All of them feature Sedaris' self-deprecating wit. He can take the most mundane activity and skillfully fashion it into an amusing story. While this collection was mellower and more reflective than previous works, I still thought it was quite funny.

Long before I bought a copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames, I listened to Sedaris tell his Stadium Pal story (in "Buddy, Can You Spare a Tie?") on NPR's This American Life. It left me doubled over with laughter, tears streaming down my face. My adult son found me in this condition in the kitchen, by the radio, unable to speak. After I recovered, I immediately found a recording of the program on line and had him listen to it.

If you have never had an opportunity to hear Sedaris tell one his stories, you are missing out. He can make an already funny story a hilarious story. In many ways it makes all of his stories even funnier if, while reading, you can hear them read by Sedaris, in his own voice and with his own timing. He is a master story-teller.

As far as the stories go, there were a few misses with me - but there were also several laugh-out-loud moments. This collection is Sedaris hitting mid-life. There are fewer stories of his family and more with his partner Huge. (And Sedaris is openly gay, so, if that bothers you, don't read him.) Most of these stories are for adults and contain some adult content.
Highly Recommended - for adults

Table of Contents:
It's Catching; Keeping Up; The Understudy; This Old House; Buddy, Can You Spare a Tie?;
Road Trips; What I Learned; That's Amore; The Monster Mash; In the Waiting Room; Solutions to Saturday's Puzzle; Adult Figures Charging Toward a Concrete Toadstool; Memento Mori; All the Beauty You Will Ever Need; Town and Country; Aerial; The Man in the Hut; Of Mice and Men; April in Paris; Crybaby; Old Faithful; The Smoking Section


He was eight years old and living in the Congo when he noticed a red spot on his leg. Nothing huge — a mosquito bite, he figured. The following day, the spot became more painful, and the day after that he looked down and saw a worm poking out.

A few weeks later, the same thing happened to Maw Hamrick, which is what I call Hugh's mother, Joan. Her worm was a bit shorter than her son's, not that the size really matters. If I was a child and saw something creeping out of a hole in my mother's leg, I would march to the nearest orphanage and put myself up for adoption. I would burn all pictures of her, destroy anything she had ever given me, and start all over because that is simply disgusting. A dad can be crawling with parasites and somehow it's OK, but on a mom, or any woman, really, it's unforgivable. pg. 5

I'd gone there to visit an old friend from high school, and because I was between jobs and had no real obligations I decided to stay for a while, and maybe look for some dishwashing work. pg. 36

None of this had anything to do with my choice of Halloween costume. I went as a hobo because it was easy: a charcoal beard smudged on the cheeks, pants with holes in them, a hat, an oversized shirt, and a sport coat stained with food and cigarette ash. Take away the hat, and that's exactly how I've dressed since 1978. pg. 50

I ordered myself a Stadium Pal [external catheter] and realized that while it might make sense in a hospital, it really wasn't very practical for day-to-day use. In an open-air sporting arena, a piping hot thirty-two-ounce bag of urine might go unnoticed, but not so in a stuffy airplane or small, crowded bookstore. An hour after christening it, I smelled like a nursing home. On top of that, I found that it was hard to pee and do other things at the same time. Reading out loud, discussing my beverage options with the flight attendant, checking into a fine hotel: each activity required its own separate form of concentration, and while no one knew exactly what I was up to, it was pretty clear something was going on. pg.58-59

The Little Art Gallery was not far from my junior high, and I used to stop by after class and hang out. Hours later I'd return home, and when my mother asked where I had been, I'd say, "Oh, at my dealer's." pg. 137

I was put off by the wolf spiders as well but never thought that they were purposefully out to get me. For starters, they didn't seem that organized. Then too, I figured they had their own lives to lead. This was an attitude I picked up from my father, who squashed nothing that was not directly related to him. "You girls are afraid of your own shadows," he'd say, and not matter how big the thing was, he'd scoot it onto a newspaper and release it outside. Come bedtime I'd knock on my sisters' door and predict that the spider was now crawling to the top of the house, where he'd take a short breather before heading down the chimney. "I read in the encyclopedia that this particular breed is known for its tracking ability, and that once it's pegged its victims, almost nothing will stop it. Anyway, good night." pg. 210-211

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