I recently finished reading David Sedaris’s collection of short stories, The Best of Me. I decided to give it a try towards the end of June, Pride Month, because I wanted to read something by an author from the LGBT Community — and, honestly, many of the other books from the LGBT Community which I might have chosen to read sooner were wait-listed with my library’s electronic collection. So, the best thing about The Best of Me was that it happened to be available.
Honestly, I’ve been a fan of David Sedaris for several years. As the title of the book might imply, The Best of Me functions as a sort of “Greatest Hits” from Sedaris’s writing. Consequently, I’d probably read (and enjoyed) about a third of the stories in this collection already. And the other two-thirds were fun, frolicsome reading — just what I like for summer reading.
Sedaris’s strong suit is humor. And indeed, there were some laugh-out-loud moments from this collection. But I felt more bothered than usual by some of the snark and cynicism in some of his fictional stories — particularly the stories that seemed to come from his earlier years. And generally, it was interesting to notice that I found myself gravitating more towards the book’s personal essays, or memoir elements.
In particular, I was struck by the last three stories in the collection.
“Why Aren’t You Laughing?” is a story about the author’s mother — including her late-in-life struggles with alcoholism — and it’s such a complex and powerful portrayal that it really made me think. About parental relationships in general… the way that I’ll remember my parents… and the way that my children will remember me… And about my own sense of identity and self-worth.
“The Spirit World” is a story about the author’s sister, who took her own life after a period of estrangement from the rest of the family. It deals with general themes of family dysfunction — but also familial love. As the title of the story suggests, it also deals with the spiritual themes in a surprisingly-nuanced way. And again, I just found that the story made me think. Perhaps even more importantly, it made me feel.
And finally, “Unbuttoned” is a story about the author’s father and the process of dying. The story is a master class in demonstrating the universal with the specific, and again, it prompts deep personal introspection. About human mortality. There’s a heaviness to the writing that is strangely balanced by periodic injections of humor. Overall, it left me thoughtful. Prayerful, even (though Sedaris would not consider himself to be a religious person). In succession, after the preceding two stories (described above), it does the work of humanizing both Sedaris and me.
I really think those three stories at the conclusion of The Best of Me might really be the best of David Sedaris. I’d highly recommend those three stories, even if one doesn’t want to read the whole book. They’re kind of the best.