Book Review: Naked
Posted July 9, 2011on:
Naked by David Sedaris, Little Brown and Company, 1997, 291 pp.
I realize I’m way behind on the David Sedaris bandwagon. I’ve been listening to him on This American Life for years. I’ve read Holidays on Ice, but that was as far as it went. Finally I took the plunge into Naked.
To be honest, it took me awhile to sink into his style in print. Sedaris’ style is to tell a story with huge exaggeration and over-the-top imagery, yet with a dry, matter-of-factness that makes you wonder if it isn’t the truth. As a reader, I felt constantly unsettled. How much of this is accurate, and how much is he pulling my leg? Is this supposed to be funny, or just dark and pathetic? Did this really happen at all? Does it matter?
Naked is written as a series of shorter pieces, loosely connected as segments of a memoir, but not chronological or cohesive except in their exaggerated style. After I had read a few of them, I began to appreciate him more and more. There is a darkness to all his writing, in spite of its humor. His brokenness, loneliness and aimlessness are front and center in every story he recounts.
If there is a theme in the entire collection, it is the gap between his high opinion of himself and the reality of his life and accomplishments. That gap begins in the opening paragraphs of Naked, which are a fantasy of wealth and status in sharp contrast to his awkward and humble reality. All through his journeys as a migrant worker, a hitchhiker, and a drifter, the gap between his internal fantasy and brutal reality slowly begins to close. Finally, in the last section (from which the book takes its title), Sedaris recounts his trip to a nudist camp, literally and figuratively stripping down to nothing, becoming naked with himself as he truly is, and even finding a sense of acceptance with himself at last.
While Naked is humorous at times, it is never light. The themes are dark and sometimes disturbing, but there is hope and even healing at work.