If you talk to me enough about the music I listen to or the books I read or the movies I watch, you get the sense that I hate sophomore efforts. I will deny that to the death, citing Black Swan Green as being more awesome (if possible) than Cloud Atlas, and Toy Story 2 being the superior of the duology, but I will also secretly suspect in my heart that there’s truth to your statement.
When I picked up Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, it was with relief (I had just finished wading through the Mexican quicksand that is All the Pretty Horses) and delight (I loved Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day). It was with deep sadness, then, that I realized it wasn’t as good as its predecessor. At first I just thought it was that whole me-not-liking-second-things (see first paragraph) that made Dress Your Family subpar, but then I happened upon a review from another source that I trust. Since none of my opinions are valid unless affirmed by an outside source, I can now and only now tell you that I was right.
Bear in mind, however, that when I say ‘subpar,’ I mean in relation to his one other book that I’ve read. Sedaris remains one of the more wickedly hilarious storytellers out there. Sometimes, as is the case with dysfunctional families, the subject matter lends itself to easy entertainment. His parents’ brief stint as slum lord, the time he quasi-adopted his next-door-urchin, how one of his house-cleanee clients asked him to administer a suppository if he wasn’t awake by oh, say, three o’clock – its easy to see how these make for interesting tellings.
But the time his family almost bought a beach house? Or the chapter comparing and contrasting American Santa Clause with the Dutch St Nick, who ‘is painfully thin and dressed not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cosy’ (information he gleaned, as far as I can tell, from a Dutch hotel clerk). Very eighth-grade English paper, no? And yet, these were by far two of my favorite segments.
I’d heard that not all of Sedaris’ stories were maybe as true-to-life as you might like, but come on. No one believes carte blanche the stories we tell about our families. Our grandparents are made out to be either sharp as tacks or dim as energy-efficient bulbs, never the odd mixture they are in real life; the repartee between our siblings is usually stripped down to its bare, witticism-laden bones; Aunt Sylvia is always a little bit zanier (but only a bit, because she’s actually pretty zany) than her existing counterpart. So cut the guy some slack.
If you like Sedaris, this will only mildly disappoint, and not for long. If you’ve never read, start with Me Talk Pretty One Day, or Naked, which I also hear is fabulous.