Like many people, the first thing I discovered by David Sedaris was SantaLand Diaries; I enjoyed his dry, bitter humor and continued to enjoy it in Barrel Fever, Naked, and, especially in, Me Talk Pretty One Day. Then came Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim—a forgivable work that was pretty hit and miss, but mostly miss.
If it was any other writer, I probably would said Dress Your Family was a great piece of work, but this was Sedaris, and I had higher expectations for him. Still I forgave it, and passed it off as good but not great; I even shelled out cash to go and listen to him speak when he was touring for it.
Now over two months after starting, and desperately trying to finish, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, I have to ask what happened? Have I just matured as a reader? Has my taste in reading simply changed? Or are Sedaris' books merely getting more lame and gimmicky? Whatever the reason, this book just was not that good.
It was largely about nothing, which is common in Sedaris books--but nothing to forced extremes. It was as if Sedaris closed his eyes and said “I had a cyst on my rear” and then with that wrote whatever came to his mind, and half the time they didn’t even sort of relate.
Another problem I had with the book was he seemed to be focusing too much on the fact that he’s gay. In his early books, it was basically a known fact, but he spent time writing about himself and not his relationships. The problem with spending so much time talking about his gay lifestyle is it just isn’t interesting or funny; he even claims (several times) that his relationship isn’t exciting—so why does he spend so much time talking about it? There were a few descriptions about Hugh that almost made me laugh, but the few good parts about the books were when he was writing about how he saw other people's lives, and not his own.
He's a great observe of other, but not so much himself. Sedaris' best humor has always been observing people and how he himself interacts with them. That’s where he should stay, because that’s when I always find myself laughing. When he’s dealing with issues and struggles he has it simply just doesn’t work.
The book has a great cover, but the laughs pretty much stops there.