Barrel Fever (1994) is a pretty good and quite funny collection of short stories, humor pieces, and essays that served as my introduction to David Sedaris, although I’ve quite enjoyed his appearances on a few podcasts I listen to.
Although Sedaris is mostly known as an essayist now, at least by me, anyway, he started out as more of a short story/humor piece writer, and perhaps it was a good idea to transition because I do think his essays (all at the back of the work in their own, too short section) are superior overall.
Barrel Fever, like almost all collections, and especially humor collections, is pretty hit or miss. But the hits reach heights of snarky, dark hilarity that make up for the lows, which aren’t bad so much as they don’t do much for me (with one exception I’ll get to below).
“Music For Lovers” – An increasingly absurd piece about a man who does his own medical procedures, as well as his daughter’s, to increasingly absurd ends.
“My Manuscript” – Really good and hilarious fantasy of a teenage boy, more or less erotic fan fiction for his life.
“We Get Along” – An excellent one about a son and mother dealing with the aftermath of the death of the philandering father while cleaning out the basement they rent to tenants, most recently one the son had an affair with. Very funny but sad.
“After Malison” – Great tale of a sycophantic young writer desperate to meet her hero writer, full of disdain for people who aren’t like her or him.
“SantaLand Diaries” – The essay that made Sedaris famous, a beautiful, epic diary of his time as an elf at Macy’s. Just fantastic.
“Season’s Greetings To Our Friends and Family!!!” – A story that makes me think 1994 wasn’t that long ago, now was it? Because this has not aged well and basically hinges on a cheap Asian language barrier joke.
That exception aside, Barrel Fever is a really funny and entertaining collection that leaves me primed to check out more Sedaris in the future. Maybe not the best introduction, if only because there are other books that are more essays than stories. I’ll find out.