‘Now We Are Five’ by David Sedaris

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.”

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. Bebe Lizardo says:

    Hello Rob,
    Thank you for profound analysis of David Sereda’s very sad-making memoir documenting the loss of a person who came across as talented and interesting.
    As a middle child, growing up with five siblings it was tough, as I was the “artistic” one, like Tiffany: At least my parents did not name me TIFFANY, thank my star-crossed stars!
    Nevertheless, have just clocked in my 59th and wonder what the heck it takes to win parental/sibling approval–any ideas? Am a published journalist, produced playwright and an accomplished photographer/painter, having exhibited my work in numerous shows in Toronto and New York.
    Guess I should have married the optometrist, moved into a monster home with stainless-steel appliances, driving a Benz S.U.V. as a soccer Mom who shops at Wal-Mart. Then, maybe, they would love me…is that what it takes?
    That is where the story fell apart for me. David Sereda obviously comes from a financially comfortable family. How could any parent neglect their child to that extent?
    Just asking…

  2. I agree with Bebe. I come from a family of 7 siblings and it’s not easy. There is competition for parents attention as a child and as an adult–but the game is more brutal as an adult because now the stakes are higher–big house, grandchildren –money, etc. Not sure why the Sedaris family didn’t help her or try to provide a better living situation for her.

    Most of the children had done well.

    We don’t know the whole story but just from what he wrote –it didn’t seem that anyone cared about Tiffany and the more she was out of their lives –the better for the five.