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Read Barrel Fever (1995)

Barrel Fever (1995)

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3.78 of 5 Votes: 1
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0316779423 (ISBN13: 9780316779425)
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Barrel Fever (1995) - Plot & Excerpts

So, before I get into it, I will say that I very much enjoyed SantaLand, the radio-produced essay of Sedaris’s experiences working as an elf in Macy's, that won him the contract for this book of short stories. For the most part it was a series of skits in the shop detailing the painful and bizarre experience of dressing up as one of the little helpers and herding rude, entitled shoppers around fake snow and trying to coerce them into buying a photo of the occasion. It’s a great premise and appeals on many levels: part-time, demeaning work, the inevitable oddballs in working with huge volumes of people, and trying to stop children peeing in fake snow. No, my problem with this story as with all the other stories in this collection was the totally unnecessary, totally unapologetic way that Sedaris describes people who are fat, have mental disabilities, or are just disturbed. Basically at anyone available. The santaland story was, for the most part, devoid of such garbage. It poked fun for a few sentences at a group of ‘retards’ (his words, not mine) from a special school but the laughs came more from his and his peers efforts to make their ridiculous working day manageable. The rest of the collection is less subtle. Barrel fever, a sentence (or 2!) summary of the collection, by story: + Parade - mike tyson enters a relationship with a floozy socialite who drinks his false teeth. Pointless. + Music for lovers - ignornant fucking parenting. + The last you’ll hear from me - a suicide note from a bitchy high school girl. + My manuscript - This one was actually pretty good, just dark enough that all the talk of fucking felt justified. + Firestone - a stupid gas station attendant gets humiliated by his boss and colleagues. + We get along - widowed mother, struggling to come to terms with cheating ex-husband. Son, plots revenge against maternal aunt for being one of the mistresses. Lots of human depravity in this one. + Glen’s Homophobia newsletter - Homophobia being reported on by someone. Sedaris is clearly setting this story up for a ‘he deserved it’ line and that just pisses me off. + Don’s story - apathy and the stagnation of culture: but done so blatantly it slaps you in the face. + Season’s greetings - I almost left the book after reading this one. Wife takes in husbands illegitamate daughter from his tour in Vietnam. Vietnamese daughter is portrayed as a scheming, slutty, lazy stupid-head who eventually kills the narrator’s infant grandchild by putting them in a tumble-dryer. I thought that this story was meant to be a comment on the racism of the middle class but the baby incident turned it into something more sinister. What was the intention with this story? + Jamboree - more bad parenting and abusive relatives. The laughs just keep coming. + After Malison- delusion college student and fandom. + Barrel fever - the titular story appears to be Sedaris’s crowning achievement in being insensitive to the mentally ill, poor family relations, more abusive parents, addiction, fat jokes, I could go on. The 2 essays are barely worth mentioning. A last note: everything is written in a first person narrative and there are weird similarites to Holden Caulfied of Catcher in the Rye. He even uses the phrase ‘that killed me’ all through ‘We Get Along’. Perhaps this is another pop-culture reference and likening his narratives to the naieve ramblings of a privileged adolescent excuses the cheap laughs.Perhaps.

First, a disclaimer: I listened mostly to the audiobook which, upon closer inspection is titled "Barrel Fever: and Other Stories," not the subtitle from the print version (Stories and Essays), even though the cover art is the same. I was so confused by the audiobook that I was moved to check out the print version from the library to see what the he-e-double-hockey-sticks was happening. It was like David Sedaris on shuffle and I did not understand it at all. There were these like 5 minute pointless ramblings in between the longer stories. I still don't get it. As I said, the print version is different. The ramblings don't exist in the print version and it looks like about 1/3 of the material was left off of the audio. So I tried to read it instead, and hated it almost as much as I hate Holidays on Ice. In fact, two of the stories from Holidays on Ice are in Barrel Fever. Why, Lord, why? I almost had an actual allergic reaction to seeing them again. Just like his stories in H.O. I., those in Barrel Fever largely rely on the hilarity of suicide and homicide to entertain and amuse you. Ho-ho-ho. A couple of the stories about his family--as usual--were funny, but very similar to what you can find in his other collections, only not as good. I was about to come to the conclusion that Sedaris just can't do anything other than memoir when I read the title story, "Barrel Fever." It turns out to be one of my favorite stories by him ever--and it's fiction. The rest is kind of a pile of guano though. Don't know what guano is? Watch Ace Ventura 2, people. I get all my fancy words from Jim Carey movies.

What do You think about Barrel Fever (1995)?

I can never get a David Sedaris book to last. I usually measure the time it takes me to read a book in days or weeks, but with Sedaris I'm forced to count minutes and hours. I attended one of his readings a few weeks ago. I paid something like forty dollars for balcony seating, fearing for my life the entire time. When he finally came out, I had a good view of the top of his head. I was fairly disappointed. I had been looking forward to this for months and all I was going to get to see was the top of this guy's head.And then he started reading and everything was okay. It's his voice. Not the nasal, soft one that comes from his mouth (though I've grown rather fond of that, too), but the voice that makes his books so entertaining. From that point on, I leaned back in my chair, let the vertigo settle itself, and listened.Prior to that reading, I had read everything of Sedaris's with the exception of Barrel Fever. I picked this one up at a used book store a few days prior to the event. I decided not to read it until after so that I'd be able to relive my experience. I was thinking about re-reading Holidays on Ice as well since, well, 'tis the season. The only real criticism I have is that this one consists mostly of stories. I prefer his essays, as I've grown rather fond of his family and friends. However, the stories are pretty good. There are a few essays towards the end, which, of course, are fantastic. Included in this book is "SantaLand Diaries," the centerpiece of Holidays on Ice. This one isn't as good as Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day, but it is definitely a quick and fun read.

Some lame dude left this at my house when he was kickin' it to me. After he crossed me I figured I'd keep it and read it before giving it back, but now he doesn't work with me anymore. I would have no problem giving this book back. I really didn't like it. I've read almost all David Sedaris's other stuff and loved it, but this just didn't do it for me. The only redeeming (and I would say 4-star story) part was the "Santaland Diaries." Awesome. Other than that, I wouldn't bother reading this book. Read something else he's written 'cause it's usually awesome.

I'm actually surprised I read this whole thing. From the opening stories I felt as though this was nothing more than an amateur author testing his skills, attempting to find his voice, struggling to be humorous. On more than one occasion I actually checked the sexual preference of the author for fear that the entire thing was just supposed to be one horrible gay joke, as opposed to the working out of demons that it more likely is. Perhaps the issue is my knowledge of current David Sedaris and his rather clever and almost sometimes bordering on cutesy humor, as opposed to this incredibly dark, poking fun at completely horrible people type of thing.That being said, I did really enjoy Seasons Greetings, one of the short stories in the collection. It did a lot of the same as the rest of the short stories, but did so in a way that was actually a brilliant look into a specific type of terrible person that really felt as though it were crafting a full picture, as opposed to just showcasing those self-serving folks.However, the true highlight of this collection, the story that actually put Sedaris on the map, is The SantaLand Diaries. I enjoyed this essay so much that I actually forgot how much I despised the majority of the rest of the book. Simply put, you must read his expose on the life of mall elves. The rest, however, could just be forgotten.Luckily, SantaLand is what made Sedaris famous and is what obviously shaped his current career more than the rest of this collection, so perhaps this book did serve one good purpose...getting the rest of the stuff out of the way so we could see what Sedaris is really capable of.
—Adam Oster

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