edited by David Sedaris
Simon & Schuster Ltd, August 1, 2005
As a big fan of David Sedaris, let me just say that I am very very glad he has not been able to better emulate his writing heroes. Because for a very talented storyteller, the man has appalling taste in stories.
Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules is a Sedaris-edited short story collection. Sedaris makes clear in the book's introduction that these are stories by authors he particularly loves, and that he aims to be as great as he thinks they are. Oh dear.
The version I listened to is abridged--quite abridged, actually. It only contains five of the 17 stories included in the print version. The first story, Patricia Highsmith's "Where the Door Is Always Open and the Welcome Mat Is Out" (read by Cherry Jones) is one of the dullest 45 minutes I have ever spent. A plodding account of a neurotic middle-aged woman preparing for a a visit from her judgmental sister, the story seems to be intended to be farcical, but it's just. not. funny. I ended up with no feeling for either of the two characters, no laughs, no thoughts, and mainly amazing relief when it was finally over.
On the other end of the book is "Cosmopolitan," by Akhil Sharma (read by the author), and it similarly dragged and irritated me. It's the story of a newly separated Indian-American man who falls in love with his neighbor, and again I felt nothing but distaste for the characters and there wasn't actually any plot with which to get involved. Bah.
The only high point of the audio collection was Mary-Louise Parker's reading of Amy Hempel's "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried." A brief interlude into the life of a young woman watching her best friend die, the story is well-written and completely heartbreaking, and Parker's reading is excellent (better, even, than the reading Sedaris himself does of a silly story about a substitute teacher, "Gryphon," by Charles Baxter).
I like David Sedaris. I like short stories, especially in audio format. I was really, really excited about this little collection. So it's difficult to admit how much it sucked, but it really, really did. The print version may well be better (though it really seems to me that short stories are meant to be read aloud), as it includes some stories I know are of higher quality, including "The Girl with the Blackened Eye" by Joyce Carol Oates and "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor, as well as an afterward by Sarah Vowell. However, I was so put off by this sampling I probably won't pick it up to see.