Collected here are the more or less (Christmas-)holiday-themed short stories Sedaris writes. They vary widely in style – from outright fiction to (apparently?) autobiographical stories to animal fables and his strength mostly lies in the autobiographical (which he is also most famous for). Sedaris has a sharp eye and he manages to make his observations funny, but when he makes things up, they tend to get out of hand. Generally it’s an entertaining collection, though not always unproblematic.
David Sedaris worked as a Christmas elf at SantaLand at Macy’s in New York, a massive Christmas theme park, making sure every family can buy their photo with Santa.
This entry is one of the more or less autobiographical ones and most of the time, it’s extremely entertaining. But there were a couple of moments where it just didn’t work for me. For example, when he talks about a visit from a group of “retards”, I was simply taken aback.
Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!
Despite recent hardships, Jocelyn Dunbar is writing a Christmas newsletter for her friends and family, detailing exactly how her live was derailed.
Apart from the fact that family newsletters are a weird thing for somebody who’s not USAmerican, I quite liked the format of telling a story through that letter. But the story itself didn’t really blow me away.
Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol
A couple of very serious reviews of children’s nativity plays.
The idea of taking kids’ school performances as seriously as a Broadway production and having the reviews written by a particularly cantankerous critic is amusing in itself. But for Sedaris it’s only the starting point. I wouldn’t mind reading Bristol reviews of actual things. They really made me grin, especially as somebody who writes reviews herself.
Based Upon a True Story
A Hollywood producer makes his way to a small town and takes over the Christmas mass in search of a miracle.
Again one of the actually fictional short stories (making the title slightly more ironic) and again it didn’t really work for me that well. The idea is nice, but it just never really takes off.
Christmas Means Giving
An unfriendly neighborhood rivalry really gets out of hand.
The story was amusing enough and had some nice, dark humor, but it was also pretty obvious and didn’t impress.
Dinah, the Christmas Whore
David and his sister Lisa have to get jobs. While David explores the rich inner life he is sure Lisa doesn’t even consider having, Lisa is the one who surprises the family for Christmas.
This story I knew already, having read it many years ago when I first read some Sedaris. Reading it again, I remembered that I had read it, but not much more. In any case, back to his autobiographical stuff, he is back in his element. Especially when makes fun of himself (and many teenagers like him).
David and his French class try to explain the meaning of Easter. In French. It doesn’t really work that well.
The attempts at translation were simply hilarious. I’m generally a sucker for wonky translations, but Sedaris really uses them to maximal effect here.
Us and Them
The Sedarises move to a new home where David develops a slight obsession with his TV-less neighbor, the Tomkeys.
Despite being one of the autobiographical stories, it was also one of the weaker entries in the collection. Still amusing though, especially since we usually get these kind of stories from the haughty point of view of the TV-less.
Let It Snow
David’s mother kicks the kids out into the snow for a day to get a little peace and quiet.
This story is a quick read, but ultimately it’s one of those “in in one ear, out the other” kind of deals.
David tries to understand how the Dutch celebrate Christmas.
This hilarious summary of Dutch Christmas festivities (that in some ways are similar to Austrian Christmas and in other ways not at all) had me in stitches. Probably my favorite story in the entire collection.
The Monster Mash
David interns at a medical examiner’s office, an experience that strongly shapes his outlook on live.
This story really captures a teenaged obsession with death that is oh-so-deep-and-mature, but actually simply naive and scared. If you’ve ever been obsessed with death like that, you’ll probably recognize yourself. For me it was never that strong, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t recognize some things about teenaged me in that piece.
The Cow and the Turkey
The barnyard animals decide to play secret santa for Christmas. The Cow definitely has a special surprise in store for the Turkey.
This story was stylistically pretty different from all the other stories in the collection and I didn’t love it, although I did like the bitterdark humor that permeates the story.
Summarizing: Enjoyable collection and in its hodge-podge-iness probably a good place to start with Sedaris and figure out what kind of story of his you like