Life, Complicated: The Best of Me by David Sedaris

I feel like I’ve been trapped in David Sedaris limbo for a couple of years now.

When “Theft by Finding” — the first of a two-part series of journal entries, came out, I devoured it and have been anxiously awaiting its twin. In the meantime, however, Sedaris has released “Calypso” and now a compilation of some of his best satirical essays in “The Best of Me.”

For Sedaris fans, the essays will strike as familiar — because of course. You’ve likely read them before. That said, upon re-reading, you may find yourself having a different reaction to the discourse.

Add a few years and a lot of social media, and then top that with a chorus of humanity crying out longer and louder for social change and diversity, and a second read of Sedaris’ North Carolinian childhood memories — and the phraseology occasionally borders on cringe-y. Which almost makes this even braver to publish than his diaries. Because now, if someone picks this up out of context, they may call into question some of the language he uses. And if they don’t understand he is a satirist, they may really become bumfuzzled over the stories he tells.

And isn’t this the truth for all of us, to some degree? I go back and look at journal entries from my 20s and 30s and what I thought was downright witty and insightful back then, to these wisened eyes, reads like a litany of self piteous complaints about how hard it is to be a mother. Of course it’s hard to be a mother! If I could tell my younger self something now, it would be to put down the pen and go hug the kids because they grow up to be adults in the blink of an eye.

So, good on you, David, for resisting the attempt to explain away previous work as a folly of a younger, more ignorant mind and allowing it to marinate in our brains again, now with fresh perspective.

Sedaris’ work often takes the familial stereotype to task. In the collection’s introduction, he dismisses the notion of his family being dysfunctional, as one might assume reading his work for the first time. I don’t think it’s dysfunctional (nor, really, is it my place to pass judgement. Families often enough have a difficult time making sense of themselves, let alone someone peeping in from the periphery.) I think there’s a lot of love there, some of it unrequited, but most of it reciprocated, in the way in which their family communicates. To you, sarcasm may be tortuous. But to them, it’s anther of the love languages.

There’s a particularly painful passage toward the end of this book, in which Sedaris visits his dying father. It’s clear there’s a lot of hurt between the two, and it’s hard to imagine feeling compelled, were it your own situation, to be as cutting in conversation. It’s a living, breathing reminder that all families are different, all relationships are different, and no one really knows what lies at the heart of that unless you are in the thick of it. And maybe not even then.

If you look closely enough, you see the love. The love between a father and son. Between brothers and sisters. Between lovers and friends. And it’s a reminder to take the blinders off and revisit your own relationships. And to make sure the people you love know it before it’s too late.

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