Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris
Reviewed By Steve Rudd
All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I'm afraid that
when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.
Which, I presume, means that Sedaris (who is both a highly respected playwright and
author) really believes that true individuality is largely dead and gone.
This slim volume of writing that's comprised of six short stories is streaked
throughout with reference to the Christmas season. In the first story, which
shares its title with the title of the overall volume, the author tells the
tale of a middle-aged man who gets a seasonal job in a New York superstore
as an elf who tends to kids who have come to visit the store Santa in his grotto.
Devilishly sarcastic in viewing the season of goodwill, it is the final story entitled
Christmas Means Giving (in which two groups of neighbours literally take the keeping
up with the Jones attitude to ridiculous levels in order to out-do each other)
that is the most wildly satirical of the all the stories, and is indeed surreally
disturbing in the way that much of George Orwell's work is, spliced with
somewhat menacing undertones that are almost as dark as those witnessed in
JG Ballard's gloomily atmospheric High-Rise novel.
The most important thing is that you keep some written or visual proof of
your donation, otherwise there's really no point in giving to charity.
While some of the writing is presented in the style of Alan Bennett-styled monologue,
the vast tract of writing is thoroughly engaging and cunningly witty.
Indeed, this work is presented here as read onBBC Radio 4 (just in case you
proceed to seek out this book and find that you've somehow heard it all before!),
with the evil facets of gross materialism rubbed right in our faces until it's
impossible to take any more.
In numerous spurts, Sedaris' writing echoes the moralistic vibes of Charles Dickens'
classic novel A Christmas Carol.. and true to form, the underlying message -
that the only thing that really matters is both the reception and reciprocation
of shows of love towards friends and family - rings loud and clear.
Every gathering has its moment. As an adult, I distract myself by trying to identify it,
dreading the inevitable downswing that is sure to follow. The guests will repeat
themselves one too many times, or you'll run out of dope or liquor and realise
that it was all you ever had in common. Still, the novel is firmly rooted in often harsh reality.
The great thing is, Sedaris ushers such a message forth in a wholly original manner.
There is a chance that it might offend. But for sure, it should inspire, and thus
this book wouldn't go amiss in many a Christmas morning stocking. Put simply,
the Santaland Diaries more than succeed in getting to the heart of the matter.
ISBN 0-575-40261-X (first published in GB by Victor Gollancz in 1999)
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