March Book Review: Naked

Naked is a collection of essays written by David Sedaris that follow his life from his unconventional childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina through his college years, and closes with the title essay about his week at a nudist colony. It was published in 1997 and is the second of now 10 books that Sedaris has written. Sedaris’s dark humor and sharp wit are enough to make even the most mundane stories interesting, and when turned toward his bizarre and outlandish experiences it is almost impossible not to be drawn to his unconventional worldview.

The 17 essays in Naked show all different sides of humanity, but Sedaris’s writing really shines through in the stories about his family. One that stands out is “Ashes,” which is about Sedaris’s mother contracting lung cancer and his sister getting married. While Sedaris’s writing is anything but sensitive, there is a certain thoughtfulness that appears when he describes how a typically unemotional family dealt with such emotional events. His dark humor and pointed observations expertly toe the fine line between the absurd and the morbid that so often coincides with tragedy.

Sedaris’s essays span a wide stretch of time, from his eccentric childhood through his even stranger college years. In the essay “I Like Guys” he talks about going to a summer camp in Greece, where his sister Lisa pretends to be a stranger from the Bronx and Sedaris realizes that he’s gay. Later in the book, in “The Incomplete Quad,” Sedaris describes his time living in the dormitory for disabled students at Kent State University. While there, he meets a quadriplegic woman and they decide to hitchhike together while posing as newlyweds. No matter what Sedaris is describing, though, from a summer camp in Greece to a dormitory at Kent State, his writing is guaranteed to keep the reader wondering what is going to happen next.

The cast of characters in Sedaris’s essays is broad and diverse: from Jon, a legless evangelical Christian who makes jade clocks in the shape of Oregon, to an anti-Semitic Lithuanian landlord named Uta. Most of the people he meets seem almost too eccentric to be real, but Sedaris paints them in such a marvelously human light, that they feel like characters that we may be lucky, or unlucky, enough to meet in our own lives. This is part of what makes Naked so enjoyable: People like Jon, Uta and the other surreal characters and the situations Sedaris finds himself in are really out there, making the world a weirder and more wonderful place.

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