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In the novella "Other People’s Lives," Louise moves in with the Tobeys, a chaotic family, and observes spectacular dysfunction close up. The mother, Maria, who defected from Russia when she was a dancer, is totally self-absorbed and talks a blue streak with charming, mangled syntax. A crazy trip from NYC to the “country” ends up with a visit to an equally deranged friend who trades in antiques, kind of. Other stories get deep into Judaism and psychiatry. Sparkling intelligence in the writing, and hefty doses of irony.
This essayist, known for his humor, is also big on irony, as the title suggests. What’s to be happy about, as he faces COVID, Black Lives Matter, and death—the current trifecta of woes?
Well, Sedaris tells us what it’s like for him, no holds barred; the selfish stuff that lives in our heads, but we wouldn’t dream of sharing with the public. Therefore, my reading experience was a mixed bag of recognition, snark, shock, and sadness as he bares family dysfunction under Klieg lights, as it were. And I even got some laughs. Much about his father’s decline and final demise at 98. So much is grotesque in this world, and Sedaris limns it very well. Charming, sometimes infuriating, and since I am always drawn to shadows, very welcome.
Rose, a young woman, immigrates from Malta to Canada on her own. Scott, from Cape Breton, falls for her in the coffee shop where she’s baking old country specialties. It’s not hot love between them, at least for her, but (old story) she gets pregnant and then they’re wed. Rose is realistic and practical. She makes the best of it with the familiar ups and downs of relationship, and it ends up solid and satisfying. I especially appreciated Rose’s down to earth approach to life and glimpses of her Maltese heritage.
The birds of the title have sinister implications. They show up at the new house and spook the residents, Marisa and Jake. A lodger, Kate, makes herself intrusively at home. Then there’s a jaw-dropping twist in the plot that flips preconceptions upside-down. A surrogate pregnancy and mental illness play in, and Jake’s doting, manipulating mother stirs things up even further. A creepy, compelling psychological thriller.