Many of the pieces are about nutty or bizarre experiences, like volunteering at a hospital for the insane, but the funniest ones, and ultimately the saddest, have to do with the writer's family. His best character is his mother, a wicked comic with a genius for sarcasm ... I'm not complaining; his humor would shrivel and die if he had to clean it up and make it nice. But the flip side of disgust with everybody else is disgust with yourself. When, occasionally, he turns his derision inward, the result isn't likely to make you laugh ... Mr. Sedaris is aiming for something more complicated here than he was in his brilliant first collection, Barrel Fever, though I'm not exactly sure what, and I don't think that he is, either -- having found his voice early, he's still not entirely sure what to do with it.
Even at his most wistful, Sedaris never loses his native taste for raunch, whether the subject is fearsome dildos or dressage at a nudist camp--and although the book's off-color passages cannot be quoted here, Mrs. Sedaris would certainly approve. So will her son's many fans.
Sedaris's extensive resume of hitchhiking trips and dire jobs has provided him with an absurd array of distressing incidental characters, like the belligerent, legless Jesus freak for whom he worked making jade clocks in the shape of Oregon. The author's wisecracking mother emerges as a full-blown comic heroine, and the essay discussing the months before her death achieves a brilliant synthesis of solemnity and humor. Only at the end, when describing a visit to a downscale nudist camp, does Sedaris disappoint, as he seems to have gone on the jaunt solely to acquire filler material. Sedaris applies the same deadpan fastidiousness to his life that Charlie Chaplin applied to his shoe in The Gold Rush--this is splendid stuff.