Story Title: ‘Now We Are Five’ by David Sedaris.
Source: New Yorker website
Date Read: 29th October 2013
Afterthoughts: There I was midway through David Sedaris’ latest essay collection, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls (Abacus Publishing) and enjoying it immensely (more on this at a later date), when the 28th October edition of The New Yorker landed (virtually, I only have a digital subscription) with a shiny new essay from Sedaris inside, titled Now We Are Five. If you’ve yet to read anything from David Sedaris then I would suggest that this essay, which is available for all to read for free on The New Yorker website, is a great place to start.
Now, something that Sedaris does well – really well – is write about family life and Now We Are Five brilliantly illustrates this. All at once this essay, which is tinged with a sense of loss, is intimate and honest, sad and sobering, and yet running through it is a vein of humour which to some degree uplifts.
Earlier this year Sedaris’ youngest sister Tiffany ended her life just short of her fiftieth birthday, and the essay explores Sedaris’ reaction to this, and that of his family, all in the setting of a beach house on an island off the coast of North Carolina.
The title comes from the fact that including Tiffany there were a total of six siblings, but with her passing they had now become five. And where it would seem that the family had gathered to remember their sister, the get together had been arranged six months prior to the sister’s suicide, and so it was more of a coincidence that they had come together at this time, in the wake of the sister’s suicide. Or was it?
It seems that Tiffany was something of a self-imposed family outcast, who would fall out with every member of the family in rotation. She was also very good at making excuses for not attending family get togethers, which were a regular feature when Sedaris’ mother was alive. Was her suicide the ultimate get out clause? Sedaris never says that it was, and it would be ludicrous and narrow minded of me or anyone else to think that someone would go to such extremes just to get out of something, but there is something of an underlying sense of this throughout the text, which is further reinforced by Sedaris’ revelation that Tiffany was known for her drama and her habit for leaving chaos in her wake. In her tragic final act was Tiffany not only whipping up chaos, but also adding ‘dramatic exits’ to her repertoire of theatrical traits?
I’m speculating of course, and rather unfairly given that I don’t even know the woman. The more likely cause of this tragedy is probably more down to depression, and the awful living conditions that the sister seemed to be living under.
The essay concludes with Sedaris asking his ninety-year-old father why Tiffany may have taken her life. And this short exchange is perhaps the most profound moment in what is a must read essay. I recommend that you absorb it right away.
Notable Quote: While the rest of us seem to get along effortlessly, with Tiffany it always felt like work. She and I usually made up after arguing, but our last fight took it out of me, and at the time of her death we hadn’t spoken in eight years. During that period, I regularly found myself near Somerville, and though I’d always toy with the idea of contacting her and spending a few hours together, I never did, despite my father’s encouragement.”