When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

My favorite Sedaris short story collection so far, mostly because it features more of his boyfriend Hugh, who I’m sort of in love with:

“…I headed straight for the vase of wildflowers sitting by the phone on one of the living room tables.
Hugh had picked them the previous day, and it broke my heart to think of him marching across a muddy field with a bouquet in his hand. He does these things that are somehow beyond faggy and seem better suited to some hardscrabble pioneer wife: making jam, say, or sewing bedroom curtains out of burlap. Once I caught him down at the riverbank, beating our dirty clothes against a rock.”

Then there’s the lengthy part about Sedaris’s attempt to quit smoking (while living in Japan), which probably should have offended me beyond belief but, as is the case with most things like this, just made me laugh.
[Sedaris is being quizzed on Japanese by his sisters:] “‘All right,’ Lisa might say, ‘How do you ask me if I’m a second-grade reading teacher?’
‘I haven’t learned that yet. If it’s not written down, I don’t know how to say it.’
‘Oh, really?’ She’d then pull a card from the stack and frown at it. ‘All right, say this: “As for this afternoon, what are you going to do?”‘
Gogo wa, nani o shimasu ka?
‘”What did you do this afternoon?” Can you say that in Japanese?’
‘Well, no -‘
‘Can you say that you and your sister saw a bad movie with a dragon in it? Can you at least say “dragon”?’
…It was even worse when Amy quizzed me. ‘How do you ask someone for a cigarette?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘How do you say, “I tried to quit, but it’s not working”?’
‘I have no idea.’
‘Say “I’ll give you a blow job if you’ll give me a cigarette.”‘
‘Just stick to the index cards.’
‘Say “Goodness, how fat I’ve become! Can you believe how much weight I’ve gained since I quit smoking”?’
‘Actually,’ I said, ‘I think I’ll just do this on my own.'”

A final note that has nothing to do with the actual story but I will share anyway: While reading this, I learned that if one must eat chocolate while reading, it’s best to direct one’s face away from the book when one has to sneeze. Now pages 278-279 of this book have little chocolate flecks on them, and I feel bad.

Verdict: four out of five stars


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