In a 2001 interview, essayist and playwright David Sedaris acknowledged the difficulty of being an observational writer who has become popular enough to write full-time, leaving him a narrower range of new real-world experiences to commit to paper. In essays like "The Santaland Diaries" and collections like Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris discussed his string of colorfully lousy jobs, his move to France and his new life there, and his hilarious encounters in locales like a nudist colony and art school. But his latest autobiographical book collection, Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim, deals with his shrinking field of experience by focusing almost exclusively on his childhood and his family.
Sedaris has written about family before—his pushy, optimistic, out-of-touch father, his sympathetic mother, his unabashedly foul-mouthed and foul-minded brother, his talented sisters, and his Francophile boyfriend Hugh. (The title, which Sedaris never addresses, is stolen from a book Hugh dreamed about.) Dress Your Family revisits them each in turn, in down-to-earth, mutedly funny essays about Sedaris' childhood attitude toward other families and toward a rich, detached relative, as well as various clashes and connivances with his parents, his sisters, and with childhood friends and acquaintances. Other essays dissect his adult siblings and father one by one, as his brother gets married and has his first child, his parents become slumlords, and he engages in revealing visits with his sisters Lisa and Tiffany, as well as arguments and house-hunting sessions with Hugh. An extremely small percentage of Dress Your Family's essays break the motif—one of the book's funniest installments, "Nuit Of The Living Dead," deals with Sedaris' unintentionally intimidating attempts to guide a lost traveler, while the most horrific ("Blood Work") describes an encounter with a confused fetishist during Sedaris' professional house-cleaning days—but still, this is the author's most focused theme since Holidays On Ice.
Dress Your Family continues Sedaris' evolution toward plainer and sparer storytelling. The individual essays have mostly appeared in Esquire, GQ, or The New Yorker, or have been read on This American Life, and they have a hushed, serious tone which seems familiar from Me Talk Pretty One Day, but shows a distinct disinclination for Naked's denser, more hyperbolic tone or Holidays' more open comedy. Sedaris is still funny, largely in his straight-faced, withdrawn, dryly absurdist reactions to openly absurd events. But he's also increasingly thoughtful and grave as he considers his relationships and his past, and as he subtly implies the damage he's done to others and the marks they've left on him in turn. His wry charm remains intact, and his bizarre experiences are no less outlandish. But his take on them seems increasingly somber and adult, as though, with fewer new tales to tell, he's not only mining his past, but also analyzing it, putting it in order, and taking stock of himself in the process.