Sedaris says that his sister Lisa read him a few lines from the piece over the phone but that he hasn’t bothered to read the whole thing. (Predicting that he’ll be grilled about it on his upcoming tour, however, he plans to get a copy.) The irony that The New Republic has itself published some serious falsehoods is not lost on Sedaris. In 1998 staffer Stephen Glass was dismissed for fabricating a series of articles, and just last year the publication’s “Baghdad Diarist,” a columnist who was an army private, was also discredited. “So it’s okay to [make things up] when you are reporting from a war zone, but not if you’re writing about a class you took in fifth grade?” Sedaris asks.
For Sedaris, the most trying result of the brouhaha has been that the notoriously strict fact-checking department at The New Yorker, which publishes many of his stories, has, he says, “gone into overtime” verifying his work. His friends, relatives and even the residents of his Normandy village are frequently called to corroborate minute details. The trouble is, they sometimes have their own versions of events. After, for example, Sedaris referred to a walnut grandfather clock in his family home, his father told the fact-checker he thought it was cherry wood. The younger Sedaris quickly gave in: “I said, ‘Fine, make it cherry!’” But he was in no mood to settle after the checker contacted his sister Amy to ask whether it was true that David paid her a dime for a chicken leg at childhood dinners. She claimed it was 20 cents. Amy, a comedian who cocreated and starred in the television series Strangers With Candy, was “just f---ing with them,” he maintains.
Most recently, Sedaris sent his editor a story about animals. “I thought, I’ll be safe here, shouldn’t be any problems,” he says. But after he mentioned a nature TV program that featured two camels—Josh and his “girlfriend” Josie—the fact-checker obtained a tape of the show and found no mention of the word “girlfriend.” Sedaris almost lost it. “Let me tell you something,” he retorted. “Camels don’t date. Let’s just say she’s a female and they get along.”
“I feel I have always been up-front about how I exaggerate,” Sedaris insists. “But I think a memoir is pretty much the last place an intelligent person would look for the truth. It’s my version of an event, just as my sister Lisa has her version, and my brother, Paul, has his.” Whenever he writes about family or friends, he says, he sends them the piece before publication, giving them the chance to weigh in.
Being something of a Luddite, Sedaris—who does not drive, own a cell phone or have an e-mail account—relies on the postal service for most communication. E-mails, he says, are “always somebody wanting something, and that’s a pain in the ass.” It was only last November that he learned how to access the Internet, and until about 2000, he wrote on a typewriter.