“The Best of Me” by David Sedaris
REVIEW BY MEREDITH MCKINNIE
“There’s a lot of talk lately about the family you choose. It’s a phrase often used by people who were rejected by their parents or siblings and so formed a group of supporters, kindred spirits. I think it’s great they’re part of a tight-knit circle, but I wouldn’t call it family. Essential to the word is that the people you’re surrounded by were not chosen. They were assigned by fate, and now you must deal with them in one way or another until you die.”
I’ve read David Sedaris’ work casually over the years. Usually, the absurd title of his latest collection of essays will grab my attention, and I buy a copy on impulse. The last such copy was Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, which inevitably meant I would laugh out loud, which I did, a rarity in my chosen book topics. I enjoy essay collections because they don’t require intense attention from chapter to chapter. They can be picked up and put down whenever the mood suits me. Likewise, Sedaris writes humor casually. The subjects of his jokes are not the topics we think of as inherently funny. His mastery is in transforming the absurdity and heartbreak of everyday life into a fond memory of simply being alive.
I heard about The Best of Me from a podcast interview of Sedaris. His squeaky voice is both off-putting and endearing and his refusal to take himself seriously is reminiscent of many comedians. He is just funny. He’s not trying to be. And while Sedaris’ stories can be cringy and examine the often-ignored, his heart bleeds through the words. In his insistence of not caring, we see how much he really does. This collection of essays focuses on his family, the one he insists is not dysfunctional, though his depictions of the crew would suggest otherwise. Sedaris writes about the people he loves as though they’re fictional characters. Each flaw is harped upon and each quirk is exacerbated. He speaks openly about his mother’s death decades prior, his younger sister’s battle with depression, and his father’s physical decay in old age. Sedaris’ banter with his partner Hugh sparks each narrative with truth and humor, and Sedaris’ willingness to expose his own morbid thoughts and questionable actions make fans out of his readers. He shares what many of us fear people knowing.
Frequently, throughout reading the large collection of Sedaris’ hand-picked favorites, my chuckles would pique my husband’s interest. And I would comply by reading a small passage, which often ended with my reading the entire story. I laughed even harder when voicing the narrative out loud. Sedaris’ ability to squeeze layers of humor into four-line sentences is inspiring. I’ve often wondered if his writing would translate to a stand-up act; a quick Google search of Sedaris would lead one to think so, as he’s often pictured in flowy Hawaiian shirts and loud culottes. The quirky ensembles match the mind allowed to roam wild on the page. If you’re a fan of Sedaris or are drawn to sometimes raunchy, but inherently human humor, then The Best of Me is waiting, though Sedaris would discourage your rushing on his behalf.