Book Book Book Book
Commentary Commentary RSS Reviews Podcasts_Audio Podcasts RSS Blog Links Archives Indexes

David Sedaris
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls
Little, Brown / Hachette Book Group
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-316-15469-7
Publication Date: 04-13-2013
276 Pages; $27.00
Date Reviewed: 01-09-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  Non-Fiction  General Fiction

While I can't pretend to be familiar with everything written by David Sedaris, I've read and heard quite a bit, and enjoyed it all immensely. Sedaris is always witty, funny, and enjoyably self-deprecating. Beyond all this, he manages to make his readers feel as if they are right there with him. He creates an authentic sense of intimacy and we see our own flawed selves while we laugh with his entertaining exploits.

'Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls' is no exception to this string of hits. But with this collection, Sedaris pushes himself and manages to top even his own high standards. Most noticeably, he includes fiction here, in the form of "forensics," short in-one-voice-pieces written to be read aloud by high school students performing in competitions. But even in his own familiar territory, he manages to top himself, with what for me was the best single piece I've ever read by this author. If you like David Sedaris, or want to foist his work off on someone, this is the book to wave in their faces.

The "forensics" are interesting pieces, unsubtle to be sure, but hilarious and wrenching all in the same moment. "I Break for Traditional Marriage" is a horror story, David Sedaris style, and it is way, way, over the top in terms of horrific violence and humor. They're melted together into a narrative that clings in the mind long after you've finished reading. "Health Care Freedoms and Why I Want My Country Back" peers into the mind a Tea Party Protester with a wily son. Make no mistake about it; these stories are not understated with regards to their politics, but they're masterful short narratives that are entertaining and written, but not overwritten, with care.

In the rest of the book, Sedaris is up to his usual you-are-there storytelling style. "Dentists Without Borders" is an eye-opening look at healthcare abroad, combining a very low-key, almost invisible sense of the politics of healthcare with Sedaris's own adventures abroad. "Understanding Understanding Owls" gives the book its title, in the usual crosswise fashion, as it is here that Sedaris informs us that owls are a huge craze. It isn't something I've noticed, but it clearly captures his imagination and helps him capture ours. The piece finds the author looking into the dark reaches of a taxidermist's store, as well as those within himself. Pick out any story here and you'll find yourself right here with the author until the final word on the final page of the story, generally a perfectly balanced combination of poignant and humorous.

But beyond the new addition of fiction, and the expected excellence of Sedaris's storytelling, readers can find "Loggerheads," a story by Sedaris that manages to exceed even his own high standards. Sedaris starts with himself and Hugh in Hawaii, then with an understated skill slips back into his youth and back further, to create a story that offers dark, hilarious humor and stark, shocking insights. It's easily one of his best pieces. "A Friend in the Ghetto" begins with a sales call but slips back into the time that Sedaris decided he was going to date a black girl in his high school. Once again, he expertly weaves poignancy and humor to maximize the effect of both. It's certainly not new territory for David Sedaris. But with 'Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls,' David Sedaris turns in his best performance on the page to date, proving that life can continue to get both worse and better in the same moments.

Review Archive
All Reviews alphabetized by author.

General Fiction
Non-Genre, general fiction and literature.

Supernatural fiction, supernatural horror and non-supernatural horror.

Science Fiction
Science fiction, science fantasy, speculative fiction, alternate history.

Fantasy, surrealism and magic realism.

Crime, thrillers, mystery, suspense.

Non-Fiction, True Crime, Forteana, Reference.


Archives Indexes How to use the Agony Column Contact Us About Us