Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Calypso by David Sedaris: A review

David Sedaris is a misanthrope and I'm okay with that; I am sympathetic to the impulse. 

At the same time, Sedaris is fascinated by people even as he is repelled by them. They are, after all, the stuff out of which he has constructed his living. His stories of his interactions with quirky people, many of them members of his own family, have now filled the pages of nine essay collections and made him a very wealthy man.

Sedaris is a master at making us laugh out loud at some of the crazy antics he and his family get up to, as well as his interactions with people that he meets at his book signings and on publicity tours around the country and the world. He does it again in Calypso. My daughter and I listened to the book, narrated by the author, on our recent road trip and at times we laughed out loud until tears rolled down our cheeks. But this book also contains some poignant tales, particularly those featuring his mother, who died of cancer, and his sister, Tiffany, who committed suicide.

One anecdote regarding Tiffany is especially filled with regret and guilt. Sedaris tells of a time, during which he was estranged from his sister and was not speaking to her, when she came to the backstage door of the theater where he was performing and wanted to talk to him. He had the security guard shut the door in her face. He never saw or spoke to his sister again.

He relates stories about his mother's alcoholism and regrets the fact that no one in the family ever confronted her about it.

He also tells an anecdote about his family in 1968, only recently moved to North Carolina. They were all having a meal at a restaurant when over the public address system came the announcement that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed in Memphis. Everyone in the restaurant except the Sedarises cheered. It reminded me of the assassination of President John Kennedy when people around me (in Northeast Mississippi) were elated and excited. I was devastated.

And then there is his incredulous recollection of the election of 2016 and how the country has been transformed since then.

But I don't want to give you the wrong impression. Most of the essays in this book are funny and they will make you smile, sometimes wryly, and occasionally the smiles will turn into guffaws. 

One of my favorite essays in the collection was his story about his Fitbit. As one who also wears a Fitbit, I could fully relate to the obsessive behavior it can engender. Sedaris started out trying to reach modest step goals, but soon his goals increased by factors of six and seven and he was going for 65,000 steps a day. Then he got an Apple watch to go with his Fitbit and wore them both because you can never have too much information about the number of steps you take! 

Sedaris is 61 years old now and perhaps the more reflective tone of this collection is related to his time of life. He shares his life freely with us, even the less than savory parts. His life is divided into three parts: his home in Sussex, England that he shares with his husband Hugh and occasional visitors; his vacation home on Emerald Isle, North Carolina that he shares with Hugh, his elderly father, his siblings, and extended family; and his life on the road where he meets the most highly unlikely people. Sedaris the misanthrope is always surrounded by people.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


5 comments:

  1. Great review, Dorothy, very insightful. I'm dying to read this book that is coming with lots of hype. I even downloaded a sample in the hope that I may yet have enough time this year to read this collection. I have read great things about it, your post adds to my excitement.

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    1. I've always enjoyed Sedaris' essays about life and his experiences. He's a very good writer. I think his books are best enjoyed on audio with his unique voice reading them.

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    2. I started Calypso last night. I have read three essays so far and I am loving it. He is a gifted storyteller. Who knew?! :-)

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  2. I admit I have never read this author. I once saw one of my nieces reading a book of his (she is a life-long reluctant reader) and she raved about him. I am probably more in need of humor at this point in my life than I used to be. I will check him out.

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    1. He has a sharp and unique brand of humor that doesn't spare himself - or anyone.

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