Friday, 5 January 2018

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris Review

The hi-larious humorist David Sedaris returns for another collection of rib-tickling, side-splitting… ok, enough of that! But Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls isn’t a bad read and a few of the essays had me LOL-ing hard though it’s definitely not as consistently good as his other books. 

His Homer Simpson-ish dad steals the show whenever he crops up, thundering about David’s childhood home in his underpants with a drink in his hand. In Attaboy, he chokes out a neighbourhood boy he wrongly mistakes for having called his wife a bitch, but, hey, it was the late ‘60s/early ’70s and that’s just how parenting was! And the kid got some shit ice-cream so fair’s fair! 

Standing Still was my favourite story. David’s sister Gretchen is almost raped walking home late at night and, during the police interview, they ask if her attacker was wearing short or long pants. She says long. Sedaris writes “My father slapped his palm on the tabletop. ‘There you go,’ he said. ‘NOW we’re getting somewhere!’” before buying a baseball bat and prowling the neighbourhood in his car seeing if he can catch his daughter’s would-be rapist himself (a situation made all the more loaded by the fact that it was a black man and this was in North Carolina!). 

Easy, Tiger also made me laugh as Sedaris reviews the differences between learning Japanese and German languages on tape. This scenario appears on both: a wife announces to her husband that she wants to buy something - in the Japanese one, the husband asks her how much she has, she tells him, he offers to increase it; on the German one the husband replies coldly “I’m not giving you any more. You have enough.” Oh, Germany! 

That said, most of the essays are fairly ordinary and unmemorable without anything funny or impressive happening. It’s very noticeable that the best stuff is largely from Sedaris’ childhood/wayward youth while his recent stuff isn’t nearly as interesting. It’s like a successful band who spent years crafting their first record and made it big then their second album is all uninspired guff about the road and hotels; most of Sedaris’ recent essays are about going on book tours and travel, while the ones that aren’t - going to the dentist, getting a colonoscopy, buying a stuffed owl, getting into picking up litter - are equally humdrum and mundane with just the occasional sparkling sentence to tide you by (from the essay, Rubbish: “My arms are scratched from reaching into blackberry bushes for empty potato chip bags, of which there are a never-ending supply, potato chips in the UK being like meals in space. ‘Argentinean Flame Grilled Steak’ a bag will read, or the new ‘Cajun Squirrel.’” - as a Brit I can confirm this is a very wry, very true observation of the insane variety of crisp flavours!) 

Also included are six fictional monologues dotted throughout, all of which are mega-crappy and added nothing. Most are predictably liberal caricatures of conservative stereotypes - easy, unimaginative targets to make fun of. These were definitely the worst parts of the book. It’s no surprise Sedaris made his name with nonfiction if this is the quality of his fiction. 

There’s enough decent material here to make reading it worthwhile for most David Sedaris fans, and the book as a whole is well-written and easy to read, so Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is a decent-enough read. But I definitely think that unfortunately at this point we’ve seen his best stuff in his earlier, far funnier, books and the occasional gems amidst the growing amount of dross is the most we can expect from him going forward.

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