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Sedaris Kicks Skeletons Out of Family's Closet

May 19, 1997|LYNELL GEORGE

For the last couple yuletide seasons, the compact voice of author and frequent National Public Radio commentator David Sedaris has become something of an arch holiday tradition. "SantaLand Diaries," the centerpiece of Sedaris' last collection of short stories and essays, chronicled his big city adventures as a bewildered, frayed-at-the-edges department store elf.

In his new best-selling collection of autobiographical essays, "Naked" (Little, Brown), Sedaris gives his thirsty following a Windex-polished window into his formative years--from his childhood neat-freak, obsessive-compulsive behavior to his sister's and mother's obsession with '70s TV detectives--in only the astute and singularly inside-out way David Sedaris can sew up family matters:

From the essay "Ashes":

The moment I realized I would be a homosexual for the rest of my life, I forced my brother and sisters to sign a contract swearing they'd never get married. There was a clause allowing them to live with anyone of their choice, just so long as they never made it official.

"What about children?" my sister Gretchen asked, slipping a tab of acid under her tongue. "Can I not marry and still have a baby?"

I imagined the child, his 15 hands batting at the mobile hanging over the crib. "Sure, you can still have kids. . . ."

My fear was that, once married, my sisters would turn their backs on the family, choosing to spend their vacations and holidays with their husbands. One by one they would abandon us until it was just me and my parents, eating our turkey and stuffing off TV trays. It wasn't difficult getting the signatures. The girls in my family didn't play house, they played reformatory. They might one day have a relationship--if it happened, it happened; but they saw no reason to get bent out of shape about it. My father thought otherwise. He saw marriage as their best possible vocation, something they should train for and visualize as a goal. One of my sisters would be stooped before the open refrigerator, dressed in a bathing suit, and my father would weigh her with his eyes. "It looks like you've gained a few pounds," he'd say. "Keep that up and you'll never find a husband." Find. He said it as though men were exotic mushrooms growing in the forest and it took a keen eye to spot one.

"Don't listen to him," I'd say. "I think the weight looks good on you. Here, have another bowl of potato chips."

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