A couple of years ago, I forget when, I read David Sedaris' book Me Talk Pretty One Day. Although now I remember very little about this, I can recall distinctly liking his authorial voice. So, finally I have some free time and went to the library to pick up this collection of personal essays.
As I read through these autobiographical essays, I found myself laughing outloud, shaking my head in disbelief and bemusement, and nodding my head with a subtle smile of understanding and commiseration. Sedaris is brutally honest about himself in a very humorous way that does not alienate me as a reader. Even reading about Hugh lancing the putrid boil on David's tailbone roused more respect from me than disugst.
All I can really say is that I laughed outloud, and I feel like I've been given insight into "the human condition". Sedaris has opened a window into his life, and through elements of his stories we can see ourselves and through all of it we can see those around us; we can even imagine the parts of them they may like to pretend don't exist.
Having read When You Are Engulfed in Flames prior to beginning David Sedaris’ earlier collection Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, I found these essays a lighter, quicker read. Perhaps because the essays collected herein are shorter and more bite-sized, I found them easier to swallow, but strangely less satisfying. At times I feel like Sedaris as a narrator is very detached from his story; his almost out-of-body commentary on himself and the situations in which he finds himself come across in some places as hollow or played out. I felt this way in the essay “Blood Work”; I had no emotional reaction really, perhaps as a reader intuitively reflecting what I felt from the narrator. In reflection, I think I should have felt something, horror, disgust, glee that it wasn’t me. Instead, I ended this story with a bemused, slightly confused shrug.
That said, some of the other pieces included in this collection struck a really powerful chord in me. Perhaps it was from the multi-layered awareness of Sedaris as a commentator on his own life, on others' lives being lived around him, and on the invisible and often incomprehensibly powerful interconnectedness of all of us, particularly family. Or it could have been from his often hauntingly insightful observations of human nature communicated in bitingly witty and brief interior-voice asides.
I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway that I entered. As soon as it arrived in the mail, I put it at the top of my reading queue. At the time I entered the giveaway, I had never heard of Cadillac Man, nor read any of his excerpted works, which have apparently been stirring up quite a bit of attention for homelessness. Living on the streets Cadillac Man was his own life chronicler, writing about his daily life, both the little things like going canning, receiving free meals and clothes from churches, getting harassed and beaten and the bigger things like the death of a friend, a fellow homeless man.
The Introduction at the beginning of the books reads like a disclaimer from the narrator. Cadillac Man makes no excuses for the nature or content of the stories that he tells, because those stories are his life. One common thread that arises throughout the book is Cadillac Man's refusal to be pitied. He accepts that he made choices in the past that have led to where he is now, and he acknowledgeds that he has always consciously chosen to stay where he is: on the streets.
The nature of Cadillac Man's nature is very approachable. It has a clear storytelling element that most likely derives from the habit of sharing stories on the streets. Each chapter stands alone as its own anecdotal account, often linked to a particular figure in Cadillac Man's life or a certain character on the streets. At the same time each chapter is labeled with the year and burrough, to give a general sense of time and place. Since the chapters are not directly linked, nor even organized chronologically, reading the book straight through can result in some confusion. An event mentioned in an early chapter as having occurred in the is related in a later chapter as though in the present. The reader consequently feels the need to double-check the chronology, or else read the chapters in a different order other than that presented in the published form.
Perhaps the best element about this book is its candor. It isn't that Cadillac Man has no sense of privacy; it's more like he really understands basic human nature. Essentially, we all do have the same biological drives and needs- food, clothing, shelter of some kind, and human interaction. Cadillac Man shows us that this last thing, the need for human interaction, is seemingly the strongest of all. Each chapter of this book is about a connection, a human interaction of some kind. Some chapters are about the loss, erosion or destruction of a human connection.
In the chapter "Irish", Cadillac Man tells about a man called Irish that Cadillac Man met soon after becoming homeless. In a way, Irish saved Cadillac Man from himself and reconnected him to humanity. When Cadillac Man lost Irish, he developed a gaping hole of grief inside just as any other human being would. Also, this loss reverberates in Cadillac Man's relationships with other individuals on the streets, and the threat of this loss is woven throughout the chapter "Penny" and motivates Cadillac Man's decision about the young runaway who inspired love and true human connection in him.
Land of the Lost Souls collects the unabashed stories of Cadillac Man, a thirteen-year veteran of the New York City streets. If his longevity on the streets is not enough to suggest the depth and wealth of his experiences, one need only listen to his words. His character and very identity shine through the stories he tells, and although he does not seem to intend that his stories, the chapters in this book, be read as parables , they often subtly convey certain powerful life lessons.
Burroughs has done it again. After reading Running With Scissors, I could not imagine that more craziness, anything crazier than his youth, could happen in his life. Of course, I should have known that some people have a whole crazy universe around them throughout their lives. Burroughs seems to be just such a person.
I love that Burroughs deals with his life so honestly and so humorously. I have no doubt that he cannot help but exaggerate sometimes, who can when telling personal anecdotes? But for the most part I believe what Burroughs writes, and not in a conscious way. I don't even doubt as I read that this is his life on paper. I especially appreciate what I see as his honesty when I'm reading about the unflattering parts, his self-absorption, his denial, his avoidance tactics, his inability / unwillingness to deal with the heavy shit in life... and his recognition of that. I like that he is aware of his shallowness and makes jokes about it.
I would have to say that what I love the most about Burroughs is that throughout this book, even in his shitty, selfish, self-absorbed and destructive periods, I, as a reader, could sense that Burroughs has this genuine internal compassion, both for himself and for others. He is neither narcissistic nor suicidal, but somewhat more than normally self-destructive. It isn't masochism, and it isn't psychosis. What Burroughs underwent in this phase of his life, what he shares in this book, is something so brutally human, so common and yet so terrible, that I was simultaneously full of revulsion and recognition. I love him for this. I recommend this book even more highly than Running With Scissors, and I cannot wait to pick up his next work.
Quite possibly his best, most emotional work yet. The writing is intense, and a sense of tension and anxiety pervades every chapter as it must have pe...moreQuite possibly his best, most emotional work yet. The writing is intense, and a sense of tension and anxiety pervades every chapter as it must have pervaded his life. Impressively done.(less)
As a teenager I went through a phase when I loved Marilyn Manson. I thought he was totally badass. After reading this autobiography, I remember being...moreAs a teenager I went through a phase when I loved Marilyn Manson. I thought he was totally badass. After reading this autobiography, I remember being floored by his candor, his sense of humor, and above all his intelligence, nay, brilliance. As I grew older I gradually loved his music with less vigor and enthusiasm, but I still have immense respect for Marilyn Manson as an artist and as an individual. In this book he shares his awkward, uncomfortable childhood and private portions of his adulthood too. This book is worth a read for fans and non–fans alike.(less)