David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) is a New York Times best-selling collection of humorous, autobiographical essays. Sedaris has mastered the art of self-deprecating humor. His radio debut was on the NPR's Morning Edition in 1992, where he read his hilarious and now-popular essay “SantaLand Diaries," tales of his experiences working as a Santa elf for a large department store. Shortly after his NPR performance, he was awarded a two-book deal with a major publisher and has since written numerous other best-sellers and frequently performs his works on stage. Me Talk Pretty One Day is Sedaris’s third book.
The twenty-eight essays in Me Talk Pretty One Day cover some of Sedaris’s more awkward school experiences growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina. For example, in the essay “Go Carolina,” Sedaris relates his first encounter with the school speech therapist, who attempted to cure the author’s lisp. Sedaris found it curious that though there were other students who were equally humiliated by being called out of class for special training to rid themselves of speech impediments, it never seemed to be the popular or cute students.
The stories continue as the author moves through several colleges as he tries to decide what to do with his life. Most of these stories make fun of the author, but Sedaris is not shy of also putting members of his family in the spotlight. In the essay called “You Can’t Kill the Rooster,” Sedaris picks on his youngest brother Paul and Paul’s frequent use of curse words. Paul, born at the end of the line of six children, was raised by more relaxed parents. In this particular essay, Sedaris points out that Paul got to do so much more than the older kids were allowed.
When Sedaris moves to Paris with his boyfriend, Hugh, he takes with him his ability to find humor in humiliating situations. In the title essay, “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” Sedaris tries to become more proficient in speaking French but is embarrassed by the teacher. In “The City of Lights in the Dark,” Sedaris admits that he spends much of his time in Paris watching dubbed American movies.
This collection proved so popular that movie director Wayne Wang made an offer to adapt the essays to film. Sedaris agreed for a while, and then changed his mind. He was worried about how his family would be portrayed and backed out of the deal.
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 52-page guide for “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by Dave Sedaris includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 27 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Language and Imagination and Reality.
David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of twenty-seven essays exploring the author’s childhood in North Carolina, his relationship with his family, his time living in France, and observations about American social life. The book is comprised of two sections, Part One and Part Deux in which the latter half focuses primarily on Sedaris’s time in Normandy, France. Told with sardonic humor, each chapter deploys various levels of fantasy, irony, and other narrative comedic techniques to highlight the mundanity of Sedaris’s everyday experiences while also adding relief to more grave subjects.
The first three chapters of the book take place at different points in Sedaris’s childhood. They explore the early beginnings of his fantasy life, which allows him to make sense of other people’s responses to his speech impediment and sexuality. In response to a persistent speech therapist, Sedaris concocts a spy fantasy to situate his struggles in overcoming his speech impediment. This sets the stage for future challenges to authority, especially as his sexuality eventually becomes an issue for those around him such as his homophobic music teacher. These chapters also contrast Sedaris’s creative imagination with his father’s more scientific approach to life.
Later in Part One, the author reveals some of the struggles in his early artistic career, including his drug addiction alongside the ups and downs of his visual arts practice. With humor, Sedaris discusses his errors as a young artist as well as his encounters with grief. He also reveals the loss of his mother and several beloved pets in the family. The introduction of a foul-mouthed brother and other unconventional family responses to mourning mitigates with humor some of the solemnness of the author’s subjects of death and grief.
In the last chapters of Part One, Sedaris explores some of his job struggles as an underpaid writing instructor, an underappreciated personal assistant to an eccentric heiress, and a mover. The author offers commentary about social and economic disparity, particularly in New York City where wealth distribution is prevalent. While Sedaris achieves a greater level of financial stability as an adult, these chapters articulate his preference for things that are simple and non-pretentious over something with more glamorous appeal. He much prefers hot dogs to the elaborate and expensive entrées in SoHo, and supports his sister Amy’s antics that defy conventional standards of beauty in favor of unconventional displays of humor.
Part Deux takes place primarily in France, a country that Sedaris begins exploring after meeting his partner, Hugh, who owns a second home in Normandy. The author shares his struggles with learning French, negotiating American and French customs, and finding ways of expressing his unique sense of humor in a French setting. Sedaris’s gradual acquisition of the French language and time spent in France leads him to question American sensibilities, something which he has never thought about until he has spent considerable time outside of the U.S. From his many language blunders to his awkward efforts at translation, he learns humility and gains appreciation for the ways in which new language and cultural acquisition can pleasantly surprise.
In the final two chapters of Part Deux, the author reflects on how the past converges with the present. In considering his trouble with sleeping, he reveals how alcoholism had served as an unhealthy sleep-aid for some time before his fantasies took their place as a slightly healthier way of occupying time at night. This practice, coupled with Sedaris’s father’s odd behavior of keeping and consuming food past its prime, is a comment on compulsive behaviors that one brings from the past into the present. The author suggests that his fantasies are a way of coping in his sobriety, as his father’s eating habits are creative compulsions. While these compulsions may lead to trouble at times, he gestures to how they are, in some ways, an opening to see reality and its objects in a different light.