David Sedaris’ strength as a writer has always been revealing truths so absurd that they’re hilarious. But he started out Sunday night’s performance as part of the Celebrity Series with one giant inaccuracy.
As he began reading to the sold out crowd at Symphony Hall, he made a comment about his upcoming collection “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.”
“I was calling it a collection of fables,” he said of the work, which will feature illustrations by Ian Falconer and be available in October, “but fables have morals, and I don’t.”
His comment elicited the laughter it deserved, as did the first story he launched into, which concerned an Irish Setter whose wife cheats on him with the bull terrier across the street. But within the rich narrative fabric of his second story lay one of the most heartfelt acknowledgements of how grateful he is for his family. And if that ain’t a writer with morals, what is?
Sedaris has long squeezed inspiration from tales of his offbeat North Carolina upbringing, his family serving as characters so comic that his work is usually filed in the humor section rather than with non-fiction. Entitled “Laugh, Kookaburra,” the story was stuffed with laugh-out-loud Sedarisisms including an analysis of Australia as “Canada in a thong.”
But towards the end came a particularly touching passage.
“Cut off your family,” he read, “and how would you know who you are? Cut them off in order to gain success, and how could that success be measured?”
Published in the New Yorker last summer, the story is one of Sedaris’ strongest in recent history. He weaves together a trip to Australia, where he feeds a Kookaburra raw duck meat with a memory of singing a song about the bird with his sister and earning a spanking from his dad. The tales are tangential, but never feel frayed. And where the author’s humor always originates from truth, it seems now that his humility does as well.