Barrel Fever


Author:  David Sedaris

TitleBarrel Fever

Genre:  Nonfiction, GLBTQ

Publication Date:  1994

Number of Pages: 196

Geographical Setting: Many different locations: from the Santa land at Macy’s to a young girl’s funeral

Time Period:  A range of time periods, but predominantly between the 1970s up to the early 1990s

Plot Summary: In Sedaris’s first published novel, he collects a group of short stories and essays that embody his unusual dead-pan wit and satirical look at the world.  From the story of a man who is loved too much by his celebrity boyfriends (such manly figures as Bruce Springsteen, Charlton Heston, and Mike Tyson) to a girl who attempts to cause the deaths of her ex-boyfriend and former best friend by committing suicide and leaving a scathing letter to be read (and possibly incite violence) at her funeral, Sedaris has a writing style not for the faint of heart.  Sedaris plays off of traditional societal norms and turns them on their head; for example, he has a mother practically confess to infanticide through her annual Christmas card family update.  He explores the question we all wonder at Christmas: how can some people be so upbeat (or use so many exclamation points) when giving truly terrible news? Sedaris pleasures in turning conventional stories into something the reader would never expect, and does not shy away from taboo subjects like homosexuality, sex, murder, suicide, religion, and erotic fantasy.  The book culminates in one of Sedaris’s most recognizable essays, The Santaland Diaries, chronicling his stint as a Macy’s Christmas elf.  Never ashamed of who he is and what he has to say, Sedaris’s frank tone and matter-of-fact writing lend to the overall theme of the collection: nothing is sacred, and everything is better when you throw in something completely unexpected.

Subject Headings:  Humor Writing — General; Essays; Short stories, American — 20th century

Appeal: engrossing, fast-paced, compelling, eccentric, engaging, evocative, well-developed, vivid, episodic, racy, romp, sexually explicit, steamy, urban, edgy, flamboyant, humorous, sophisticated, colorful, direct, concise, showy, smart, unusual, witty

3 terms that best describe this book: Dead-pan wit, satire on cultural norms, humorous

Similar Authors and Works:


Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, by Chuck Klosterman: For a pop-culture aficionado who enjoys Sedaris’s cutting humor, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs offers a collection of essays examining some of the important issues in life, including MTV’s The Real World, Pamela Anderson, and how John Cusack ruined relationships for an entire generation.

Magical Thinking: True Stories, by Augusten Borroughs: A collection of short essays that tell the story of Borroughs’s unconventional childhood and grown-up experiences through the lens of humor and self-deprecation.  Those who enjoy the personal moments of Sedaris’s short essays will appreciate the insight into this quirky author’s life.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers: For a more serious and stripped-down look at how even the most unconventional of families shapes who you are, Eggers provides a memoir that is both funny and emotional.


The Diaries of Adam and Eve, by Mark Twain: Twain takes a satirical look into the lives of the first man and woman through his mock diary of their experience on Earth.  A more serious-toned novel for Twain, those who enjoy Sedaris’s irreverent look into controversial subjects will like Twain’s take on the relationship between the scientific Eve and the less-intelligent Adam.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving: Quirky characters and questioning a life guided by fate characterize Irving’s novel.  Readers who appreciate Sedaris’s ability to create engaging, unusual characters and meaningful interactions will find the same themes in Irving’s work.

The Extra Man, by Jonathan Ames: Exploring some of the more taboo subjects, such as cross-dressing and the transvestite culture in New York City, Ames creates a novel with colorful characters who explore sexuality and romance in a funny and witty way.

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