Barrel Fever Stories and Essays Author:David Sedaris A collection of stories and essays by humorist and NPR commentator David Sedaris based upon his own experiences and the hidden perversity that can be found in Anytown, U.S.A. — Here are images and blasphemies that nice people don't dare look at--blatantly exposed and told with the clear, casual voice of intimate knowledge. Sedaris' humor is born ... more »of compassion and his tales range from the sharing of cheery Christmas letters featuring infanticide, to experiences of the Gay and Famous (Charlton Heston and Elizabeth Dole, for example), to the lives of siblings named Hope, Faith, Charity and Adolph and to alcoholics and chain smokers you can laugh with.« less
David Sedaris' first book, "Barrel Fever," gives the clearest distinction between a story and an essay that I have ever seen. I own a copy of Sedaris' most recent work, "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim," and I thought "Barrel Fever" would be much the same: Hilarious tales of Sedaris' real life, from his childhood in suburban North Carolina to his present-day life as a witty ex-pat in Paris. But the majority of "Barrel Fever" is "stories." That is to say, fiction. Hilarious fiction, yes, but more raucous, more raw, than his later works. Instead of Sedaris being himself, he is a teenaged girl, directing her own funeral service from beyond the grave. Or, he becomes a harried housewife, telling the world of her family's bizarre woes through an overly cheerful!!! Christmas letter. Newcomers should be able to enjoy his writing style, but those familiar with his work also will be able to recognize the true-to-life facts hiding behind the fiction. The book ends with the very funny "SantaLand Diaries" essay -- the reading of which on National Public Radio brought Sedaris his first measure of public fame. All in all, "Barrel Fever" was a great and very pleasant surprise to this Sedaris fan.
I ordered this book because of its author and didn't bother to read the description, so I didn't know that most of the stories were fictional pieces. I tried reading the essays, but ended up skipping over them to get to David's "real stories". With a childhood like Sedaris's, who needs to write fiction?
Even though this is one of David Sedaris's earliest offerings, I did not read it first. I came onto Sedaris's sardonic wit through the fantastic essay collection "Me Talk Pretty One Day." After laughing my way through those 200 plus pages I was hungry for more by the author. Being a completest, I usually read everything I can by authors that I enjoy.
Coming from the high that was "Me Talk Pretty..." I was a little put off by "Barrel Fever," the next title I attempted from the author. Where as "Pretty" contains mostly true stories about Sedaris's life, the first section of Barrel Fever (and the largest chunk of the book) was made up of fictional essays. The essays are still hilarious and after having re-read them since, they hold up as some of the craziest writing that I've read to date. It's clear that the earlier Sedaris was a bit more daring and willing to go for some shock value within his writing.
In fact, upon re-reading Barrel Fever, I find the true stories, which make up the second half of the book to be almost lackluster compared to the zany writing up front.
Overall, a solid collection of stories, but not his strongest work, in my opinion. Will you laugh while reading it? Oh, yes you will. Will you remember these stories after checking out some of his other works? Eh, it's not likely.
If you enjoy the first half of Barrel Fever, then I recommend following this book with Sedaris's "Holidays on Ice" which also contains several essays that are just... well... out there.