Am höchsten bewertete kritische Rezension
Though fashionable, self-pity isn't funny.
am 27. August 1998
Imagine a drawer crowded with all the emotional language, the symbols and feelings, values and aspirations, that ornament popular vehicles of representational reality, that bedeck and bespangle all manner of storytelling, of bestsellers, movies, TV, and even emotionally color, seep into, that which is supposedly impersonal or factual--news, sports, and textbooks--pervading our culture so thoroughly as to go unnoticed, as to be merely assumed part of the landscape, and, as such, inevitably assimilated, taken as our own, as us.
There beneath stories of the "dysfunctional," the "victimization," alcohol abuse, drug rehab, pedophilia, rape and ethnic pride; there under all that gender equality, gay liberation, multicultural, rainbow coalition empowerment, self-invention, and special group interests, supporting the whole ragtag phantasmagoria that is used everyday to tug at our heart strings from TV, movie screens, and the page is just the simplest of ideas: ME ME ME ME ME mine mine mine mine. Underlying too much of what currently aspires to pathos is self-interest disguised as self-pity, the latter being little more than the rubber band of the ego relaxing momentarily.
Sedaris dips everything he writes about in the bitter acid of self-pity, going so far as to pour cold contempt on his subjects; his failings are accepted, those of others mostly derided. The bounteous criticism of everyone else and the world is difficult to endure from a man who can boast no significant accomplishment, who has endured no special trial, seen no special sights, glimpsed no unique vision, nor has any new opinions or ideas to share with the reader. The heart of humor, that affection and love bestowed on the objects of derision or satire, including oneself, is so absent that the merest human kindness which occasionally surfaces here seems a miracle; nor is there anything like the lofty, disinterested intellectual meat or imagination of a Swift. Sedaris' catty negativity (he is a homosexual) is unrelieved, wearing, and abrasive. His heart is not large or generous enough to admit the fondness for the stumbling, bumbling fool found in Thurber or Ring Lardner, regardless of the claims made to the contrary by the plethora of reviews littering the book's cover and inside pages (one quote goes so far as to describe the book as a collection of "essays," when it is in fact composed of short stories; so much for critical credibility). There isn't even the accuracy in social detail of Jean Shepherd.
The only parts that stand out are brief portraits of the writer's mother, a cynical, soft-hearted alcoholic, and Greek granny, an obstinate, opaque relic transplanted intact to these shores from the old country. Lacking irony and disinterest, the rest is mostly flat and two dimensional, without contour and shadowless, as if illuminated by a harsh, artificial, unforgiving light. Characters and situations are glibly and superficially sketched; language suffers from bland homogeneity (Sedaris has a unique ability to write sentences of the same length and cadence unfailingly adhering to nothing but colloquial English); very little is inferred, very little is given for afterthought, hardly anything lies beneath the surface.
As a footnote, I could not help but notice that, inadvertently or not, Sedaris fulfills the stereotype of a homosexual's family background, which consists of a strong, dominant, dependent mother and a weak, recessive, indifferent father, i.e., imbalanced gender role models. Has anyone else noticed this or been bothered that such basic pathology ("dysfunction") is unremarked upon by the author?