Critical Assessment

“The temptation when reviewing a David Sedaris book is simply to quote liberally, and enviously, from his endless stock of pithy one-liners. A humorist par excellence, he can make Woody Allen appear ham-tongued, Oscar Wilde a drag. Me Talk Pretty One Day collects tales from both home and abroad, and picks up from where Naked–in which he first introduced his larger-than-life Technicolor family–left off.

While there is an undeniable tang of reheated leftovers, Sedaris writes with the magnificent gusto of the neurotic, who, in overreaching their means, find solace in corkscrew hyperbole.”

David Vincent, “David Sedaris unleashes a second volley of pithy one-liners in the continuation of his life story, Me Talk Pretty One Day,”The Guardian, February 1, 2001.

First Excerpt

“At the age of forty-one, I am returning to school and having to think of myself as what my French textbook calls ‘a true debutant.’ After paying my tuition, I was issued a student ID, which allows me a discounted entry fee at movie theaters, puppet shows, and Festyland, a far-flung amusement park that advertises with billboards picturing a cartoon stegosaurus sitting in a canoe and eating what appears to be a ham sandwich.

I’ve moved to Paris in order to learn the language. My school is the Alliance Française, and on the first day of class, I arrived early, watching as the returning students greeted one another in the school lobby. Vacations were recounted, and questions were raised concerning mutual friends with names like Kang and Vlatnya. Regardless of their nationalities, everyone spoke what sounded to me like excellent French. Some accents were better than others, but the students exhibited an ease and confidence I found intimidating. As an added discomfort, they were all young, attractive, and well dressed, causing me to feel not unlike Pa Kettle trapped backstage after a fashion show.”

Second Excerpt

“My fear and discomfort crept beyond the borders of my classroom and accompanied me out onto the wide boulevards, where, no matter how hard I tried, there was no escaping the feeling of terror I felt whenever anyone asked me a question. I was safe in any kind of a store, as, at least in my neighborhood, one can stand beside the cash register for hours on end without being asked something so trivial as, “May I help you?” or “How would you like to pay for that?”

My only comfort was the knowledge that I was not alone. Huddled in the smoky hallways and making the most of our pathetic French, my fellow students and I engaged in the sort of conversation commonly overheard in refugee camps.

“Sometimes me cry alone at night.”

“That is common for me also, but be more strong, you. Much work, and someday you talk pretty. People stop hate you soon. Maybe tomorrow, okay?”

“Over time, it became impossible to believe that any of us would ever improve. Fall arrived, and it rained every day. It was mid-October when the teacher singled me out, saying, ‘Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section.’ And it struck me that, for the first time since arriving in France, I could understand every word that someone was saying.

Understanding doesn’t mean that you can suddenly speak the language. Far from it. It’s a small step, nothing more, yet its rewards are intoxicating and deceptive. The teacher continued her diatribe, and I settled back, bathing in the subtle beauty of each new curse and insult.

‘You exhaust me with your foolishness and reward my efforts with nothing but pain, do you understand me?’

The world opened up, and it was with great joy that I responded,’I know the thing what you speak exact now. Talk me more, plus, please, plus.'”