A few months ago it felt as though David Sedaris’s name was everywhere. With almost daily regularity I would hear his name mentioned on a podcast episode, see someone holding/carrying/reading one of his books, or open up Instagram to find that an account I follow had posted something to do with him. I didn’t know much about Sedaris’s work except that it’s humorous, semi-autobiographical, and leans toward misanthropic. This felt like a good moment to become better acquainted.
Perhaps because it was summer and the residents of Santa Monica were baking in record high temperatures, the only Sedaris offering available at my local library was Holidays on Ice – a collection of twelve short stories, all with a holiday theme. I’ll admit reading about Christmas on a sweltering July afternoon made getting into the ‘spirit’ of the title’s season a bit challenging, but in hindsight this may have been for the better.
Right out of the gate Holidays on Ice hits you with Sedaris’s most popular essay, ‘SantaLand Diaries’, which sounds a bit like the title of a horror movie and tells the tale of the real-life horror of being a Christmas elf at Macy’s. The longest of the stories, ‘SantaLand Diaries’ is laugh-out-loud hilarious even though it goes on a bit much. As with all of the stories in this book, however, the laughs come with a heavy undertone that isn’t all that under the surface.
In ‘SantaLand Diaries’ not only are all of the Macy’s elves miserable, but the Santas are really sad and the visitors are mostly monster parents and you just feel bad for everyone. And that’s the way I felt reading every single story – uncomfortable and sorry for the characters. The second story, ‘Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!’ was witty in style, but horrific in content. I put the book down after that one and hit pause for a few days. It was a bit touch-and-go with all of the stories that followed. Every time I got through one I’d brace myself for the next.
‘Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol’ and ‘Six to Eight Black Men’ were my favorite stories and, not surprisingly, the least tragic. The book ends with ‘The Cow and the Turkey’, a tale that just left me confused.
I wanted to move on about halfway through this book and am so very thankful to have not read it during the actual holidays because that may have depressed me or, at the very least, dimmed some of my enjoyment of the season. I read the last few stories just to be finished with it all.
I am pleased to have read a David Sedaris book and I will more than likely read something of his again – his humor is unique and I want more of it. I just hope I can get it without the heartbreaking tragedy.