Sunday, January 4, 2009

Holiday on Trial or What We Thought of David Sedaris' Christmas Short Stories

"Ladies, you know what this is. Use it. I have scraped enough blood out from the crotches of elf knickers to last me the rest of my life. And don't tell me, 'I don't wear underpants, I'm a dancer. You're not a dancer. If you were a real dancer you wouldn't be here. You're an elf and you're going to wear panties like an elf."                             --David Sedaris, "The Santa Land Diaries"

In a letter to Richard Woodhouse, John Keats talks about the poetical Character being something that "is everything and nothing" and how it "enjoys light and shade." His point was that a true poet becomes invisible behind his (or her) writing, that the voice the reader receives is the voice of the given text. Though not poetry, David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice reflects several voices both likable and despicable, ironically humorous and slapstick humorous. And it's these voices and what they had to say that we discussed on Saturday Dec. 20th.

Since Holidays on Ice is a collection of short stories, we began our conversation by naming our favorite one (I know. I know. Very sophisticated). From there, we delved into the themes and significance of each story. Here's an abbreviated avatar of our discussion:

"Dinah, the Christmas Whore."
Here, we talked about the lesson a Young David Sedaris learned about Christmas, how it's not all about him. The beginning of the story centers around a teenage Sedaris focused on asserting his individuality while exposing the corporateness of Christmas. What Young Sedaris saw was an up-close imbuing of the Christmas spirit when his sister and later his mother feed and care for a prostitute with domestic problems. 

We discussed how the story, though not factually true, was probably based loosely on some incident that Sedaris was able to sensationalize and chronicle. We used this idea to spearhead a conversation about how writers create fiction. From there, we transitioned our discussion to how stories are constructed.

"The Santa Land Diaries."
This collection of diary entries about Sedaris' experience as a Christmas Elf for Macy's one holiday season sparked perhaps the funniest part of our get together, for it constituted us reading aloud our favorite parts from his entries. 

The amazing part of this story is the amount of topics Sedaris was able to touch on in such a short period of time (the selfishness of parents poorly disguised as love for their children, the issue of Santa Claus' race, and the juxtaposition of holiday cheer with biting anger--from the same person, and what the real Santa Claus would do if he were a mall Santa). As a group, this was our favorite entry, but we knew we had others to discuss.

"Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!"
The appeal of this story was the way in which it evolves like a CSI case. I don't want to give too much away, but our discussion turned into us analyzing evidence and coming to a conclusion about the story's conclusion. We also discussed the "WASPY tone" of the piece, and a few members of our group pointed out that being a WASP (I'm not one) can help you decode what the speaker is saying. Perhaps more than any other reading, this one had a didactic tone that is often characteristic of Christmas stories.

I don't want to make this blog too long, so I'll leave it up to y'all to add as you see fit. But "Us & Them" provided the platform for April's story of how she and her brother spent Christmas giving away their presents after they disobeyed their mom who told them not to snoop around the house hunting for them. "6 to 8 Black Men" was a story that April and Bob had a copy of, but not the rest of us. This was another text w/ a WASPy tone. "Based on a True Story" was probably Sedaris' most overtly satirical piece, which seems to be the overarching purpose of this collection. 

Okay, I've obviously missed some things here, so feel free to grab your bullhorn and speak loudly about what you thought of our get together. 

Works Mentioned:
"A Modest Proposal:
Me Talk Pretty One Day
When We're Engulfed in Flames
Anchor Man
A Christmas Carol

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