By Judith Newman Rennie Dyball Thailan Pham Sue Corbett
June 09, 2008 12:00 PM

WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES
by David Sedaris |

People PICK

REVIEWED BY JUDITH NEWMAN

ESSAY

In Sedaris’s sixth collection of essays, we are in familiar and glorious territory: his family; his life in France with his aggravatingly capable boyfriend, Hugh; his observations on fashion (“I like to think I’m beyond the reach of trends, but my recent infatuation with the man-purse suggests otherwise”).

But what makes Sedaris’s work transcendent is its humanity: He adores some truly awful people, yet he invests them with dignity and even grace. There is Rosemary, who is Blanche DuBois if Blanche ran a boardinghouse; there’s Mrs. Peacock, the slatternly babysitter who turns the Sedaris children into her personal slaves; and then there’s Helen, the malevolent Sicilian neighbor who wishes everyone dead and, worse, foists her terrible cooking off on Sedaris and Hugh. It’s a wonder they don’t move. And yet Sedaris not only befriends her; in the end he makes us weep for her. And that is why he’s the best there is.

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