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Laughter Therapy

Photo by Nigel Parry/CPi

He’s got four best-selling books, and homes in Paris, Normandy and New York. So why don’t we hate David Sedaris yet? The former Macy’s elf and New York City housecleaner is the ultimate underdog, and as evidenced by the popularity of reality TV, America loves to pump itself up on the toxic exhaust of others’ misfortunes. In Sedaris’ newest, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, as in his other essay collections, he distracts readers from a reality where he’s being paid thousands for sold-out author appearances, focusing their attention instead on a world in which he’s an obsessive-compulsive, tragically incompetent waster. And his droll wit and impeccable comic timing make him one of the best laughter therapists of all time.

In Dress Your Family, Sedaris continues to milk his childhood and early adulthood for material, taking his brand of resigned, self-deprecating realism to the max (“It was an unpleasant image, and so it stayed with me for a long, long time”). In “The Girl Next Door,” a 26-year-old Sedaris is taunted by his 9-year-old neighbor (“She’d give me this tight little smile, the sort you’d offer if someone you hated was walking around with chocolate stains on the back of his pants”). He doesn’t get much sympathy from his curt, sharp-witted mother, the sort of woman who says things like “guaran-goddam-tee” and, to her beloved son, “In the eyes of the law you’re just some nut with a knife who sits in the pancake house staring at a goddam stopwatch.” How could we hate anyone who makes himself sound so pitiful?

Also in Books:

Life of a dodo: What 17th-century England and Hollywood have in common. BY BRENDAN BERNHARD

DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM By DAVID SEDARIS | Little, Brown | 272 pages $25 hardcover


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