When You Are Engulfed in Flames Review
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Few people can make me laugh out loud. David Sedaris is one of them.

In his new book of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Sedaris writes about his family, his life in New York and Paris, and his relationship with his long-time partner, Hugh.

Sedaris tells us about their New York City neighbor, Helen, the gravelly voiced senior with a cigarette in her mouth, keeping vigil at her apartment window to watch the comings and goings of the neighborhood. “It seemed that she [Helen] had been at her window, surveying the scene below, and when the super in the building across the street threw a lit cigarette into our trash can, she yelled at him with such force that she blew her lower plate right out of her mouth. ‘Itch in da schwubs,’ she said. ‘Go giddit.’”

My favorite essays are the anecdotes about his childhood and his life with his family. In one essay, David’s flatulent Greek grandmother is letting go at the dinner table. “It sounded as if she were testing out a chain saw, yet her face remained inexpressive and unchanging. ‘Something funny?’ our father would ask us, this as if he hadn’t heard, as if his chair, too, had not vibrated in the aftershock. ‘You think something is funny, do you?’”

He also takes us on his parents’ foray into the world of art. He discusses his fondness for spiders and why you really can’t keep them as pets. And he ends the book with tales of his efforts to quit smoking while spending three months in Tokyo.

David Sedaris writes honestly about being gay, about his drug use and drinking, and about things that others may be shy about (especially with family still living). I found the voice of his essays in Flames to be more forthcoming than in his previous books. Still, there’s a lot of stuff here, and it is genius. David Sedaris is funny because he sees the humor in everyday life. Not everyone can do that.

I saw David Sedaris at Symphony Hall, along with N&W.com’s Christine Casoli, when he was promoting his then-new release, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. He’s an unassuming man. To look at him, you wouldn’t think that there was anything special about him—until he opens his mouth. Or until you open one of his books.

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