When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
Comedy’s a tough business, especially when your material is everyday life. With some authors, it’s tough to stifle a yawn and tougher to move from one essay to the next. Not so with David Sedaris. When You Are Engulfed in Flames elevates the mundane to the excruciatingly hilarious.
Sedaris eschews the cheap snicker for the surprise fit of hysterical giggles, as each essay accumulates information until the perfectly timed pay-off. The funniest moments are also the most tenderly emotional, ranging from frustration with his partner in “Keeping Up” to an elegiac essay about the crotchety old neighbor lady in their New York apartment in “That’s Amore,” which is almost brutal in its transition from hysterical to horrible. Sedaris never ceases to find the absurd and morbid in the mundane, from the Christmas gift that constantly reminds him of his mortality to the spot-on Princeton graduation speech, in which his parents rejoice in his Patricide major.
Ultimately, the best test of a book’s success is its word-of-mouth. I read it while next to my mother, and my constant giggles had her in fits, begging to read it next. Luckily for us, the book lives up to the hype, a dose of morbid humor for anyone after a good laugh.