By Annette Hinkle
There’s nothing like a collection of warm and fuzzy holiday tales shared amongst friends to cheer the heart at this time of year.
And “The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays” is nothing like a collection of warm and fuzzy holiday tales.
Instead, the anthology, compiled by Taylor Plimpton and Michele Clarke, offers a glimpse of the other side of the season with essays, short stories and poetry by such talents as David Sedaris, P.J. O’Rourke, Jay McInerney, Hunter S. Thompson and even John Waters.
This is fertile ground for writers and Plimpton explains what it is about dysfunctional holiday gatherings people find so entertaining.
“I think what it really comes down to is everyone is expected to be in such jolly holiday spirits, it’s near impossible to live up to the expectations,” says Plimpton. “People are miserable because they’re supposed to be so happy. So it’s helpful to read about others being miserable and know you’re not alone.”
For those who can appreciate the darker side of December, Taylor Plimpton, son of the late writer George Plimpton (whose work is also in the collection), will be at Canio’s this Saturday to read from the anthology.
Though the book is full of modern takes on the holidays, when Plimpton and Clarke set out to assemble the anthology (which came out in 2009), they didn’t limit their selections contemporary writers. Much of what they found in their research proves dysfunction runs deep in American society.
“There was a wealth of material going all the way back to Mark Twain,” says Plimpton. “We also have a piece from the 16th century written by a Puritan church goer saying why he believed Christmas was a devilish thing.”
That treatise is supplemented by Jonathan Ames’ essay on halitosis at holiday parties and another by Calvin Trillin that takes on the “one fruitcake in the whole world” theory.
Another story Plimpton will share Saturday is one of his own which is not in the book, but recently appeared in the New Yorker. Called “Revenge of the Turkeys” it details a frightful encounter Plimpton and his fiancée Lizzy Eggers had in October at Morton Wildlife Refuge in Noyac.
Despite being avid hikers on the East End, neither Plimpton nor Eggers had been to Morton before. So they had no idea what they were in for when they encountered a flock of turkeys blocking the trail ahead. Unsure what to do, Eggers attempted to communicate by making a “bock, bock” sort of noise.
“Then they started running at us and we feared the worst,” admits Plimpton who fled with Eggers as eight or so turkeys followed in hot pursuit.
“They’re big 20 pound birds and they look just like velociraptors when they’re chasing you,” he says. “I’ve eaten many a turkey in my day — I was concerned with falling down and them catching us.”
In the wake of the incident, Plimpton set out to put it in writing. Though turkeys are portrayed as dim and passive creatures, in his research Plimpton found a letter written by a founding father which alerted him to the bird’s true nature.
“Benjamin Franklin wrote to his daughter describing the turkey as a brave bird which would chase away any Redcoat from its yard without thinking twice,” says Plimpton. “If I had read that beforehand, I would’ve known not to think too lightly of this bird.”
Of course Plimpton also learned after the fact that the turkeys were likely running toward him because they thought they would be fed — as are the chickadees, bunnies and other fauna at Morton.
Still, despite the trauma Plimpton admits he’ll likely give Morton another try some day.
“I’m up for it. It’s such a beautiful place. As long as you’re carrying a weapon [like a bamboo stick], I think you’re OK.”
Taylor Plimpton reads from “The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays” Saturday, December 15, 2013 at 5 p.m. at Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor.
Top: Lizzy Eggers and Taylor Plimpton reading at Canio’s in 2009.