Sedaris’ latest memoir goes down in ‘Flames’

Scott Viau

After five books of personal essays chronicling his life and family, David Sedaris seems to have finally run out of usable material. His latest, “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” does provide a few genuine laughs, although they come at a slower pace.

“Flames” involves his life in France with his boyfriend, Hugh, although the setting takes a detour when David goes to Tokyo for three months. In addition, we are treated to essays featuring a leg infested with parasitic worms and David’s desperate search for a human skeleton, which he feels would add to the décor of his home.

I happen to be more of a fan of his sister, Amy, than of David, so whenever a story involves her, my interest is piqued. She doesn’t have as much time on the page as in previous books (especially in Sedaris’ “Naked” where she bought a fat suit and wore it around watching everyone’s reaction at how much “weight” she had gained) and is mainly a side note in this volume. She serves as a sidekick to David, giving him glib advice on items to purchase. Whether he is looking for shoes or a piece of taxidermy, her typical response is “Buy it, you’ll feel better.”

In the last essay, “The Smoking Section,” Sedaris visits Tokyo for three months in an attempt to quit smoking. This essay contains the inspiration for the book’s title. Being a smoker myself, I found this to be the most humorous story, although the comedy of someone trying to break the habit might be lost on non-smokers. The most amusing aspect was when David was just beginning to smoke and his mother would buy him a carton of cigarettes as a present. I have also received cigarettes as a present, and it is always appreciated.

Aside from the few notable stories mentioned, there is really nothing here to get too excited about, although I did find his essay regarding his burgeoning homosexuality to be interesting. Sedaris goes through the typical gamut one might expect a novice to write about, not an author as critically acclaimed as Sedaris. He writes about crazy neighbors he had come to develop an affinity for and mice that burned down a house. These stories do have entertaining parts, but it’s just not enough for me to fully recommend this book.

I feel those looking for the off-the-wall antics of the Sedaris family will be somewhat disappointed. By no means does that make this a bad book, it is just one I’m not altogether interested in. Mr. Sedaris’ eye for catching the minutiae of everyday life seems to be as sharp as ever, he’s just become involved in duller situations.