Books

Room to Dream, David Lynch; Calypso, David Sedaris

Paul Whitelaw is enchanted by David Lynch’s alternative universe, and charmed by David Sedaris’

Like most abstract artists, David Lynch is wary of explaining his work in literal terms. 

Nevertheless, he reveals quite a lot about himself and his creative process in this engrossing autobiography, Room to Dream. The clues are all there, you just have to join the dots.

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Co-written with journalist Kristine McKenna, the book is a hybrid. McKenna provides biographical chapters featuring contributions from Lynch’s friends, family and colleagues, which Lynch augments with chapters inspired by what he’s just read. This approach almost certainly delivers a better sense of who he is than if he’d written the book alone.

Occasionally, he’ll gently contradict someone quoted in the previous chapter, but he mostly uses McKenna’s extensive research as a springboard into his memories. He doesn’t need much encouragement; this is a man who can clearly remember the “out of this world” taste of a cappuccino he drank 37 years ago. 

We gain an abiding impression of a man who was born to live the uncompromising art life

Lynch writes like he speaks. He’s disarmingly direct, cheerfully profane and prone to bursts of giddy enthusiasm. Famously, he uses sweetly archaic expressions like “peachy keen”. However, at the age of 72, he now seems comfortable with exposing the steely single-mindedness behind that semi-affected public persona. He’s no naïf.

The chapters covering his Boy Scout childhood in 1950s Idaho are particularly revealing. The ‘Lynchian’ aesthetic was born there: a wholesome suburban environment plagued by creeping unease. Dead animals and dark roads feature heavily. 

Where did this morbid streak come from? “A lot of who we are is already set when we get here,” writes Lynch, a devout believer in Transcendental Meditation and reincarnation. It becomes clear, however, that several formative experiences triggered his acute understanding of horror and violence.

No one, not even his many former lovers, has a particularly bad word to say about him. He comes across as generous, loyal, funny, inspiring, driven and charismatic; in another life, he could’ve been a very persuasive cult leader. 

He also displays some bitterness and occasional lapses of self-awareness. He’s quite selfish too; Lynch’s work takes precedence over everything else in his life. According to his current wife, Emily: “David is kind, he has integrity… he’s not good at close relationships, though.” 

Presumably out of politeness and a belief that it’s nobody’s damn business, Lynch doesn’t write extensively about his family. All he says about Emily and the birth of his fourth child is “One thing led to another and now we have Lula.”

We gain an abiding impression of a man who was born to live the uncompromising art life. He’s constantly creating via films, photography, painting, music and carpentry. He also really likes coffee, cigarettes and curtains.

“There’s something behind the curtain and you don’t know if it’s good or bad,” he writes. You couldn’t ask for a more concise explanation of his work than that.

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American humourist David Sedaris is the antithesis of Lynch when it comes to writing about his personal life. His latest anecdotal compendium Calypso is once again told through the prism of his large yet dwindling family. 

His mother is dead. His father, with whom he has a strained relationship, is nearing the end of his life. His estranged sister, Tiffany, recently killed herself. 

Tiffany’s death and his own advancing years form the basis of a crisply self-deprecating set of droll and tender ruminations on mortality. However, the standout chapter, in which Sedaris eviscerates banal conversational tics (“awesome” etc.), has nothing to do with his central theme at all. 

Room to Dream, David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (Canongate, £25)

Calypso, David Sedaris, (Little, Brown, £16.99)

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