“Calypso” by David Sedaris

PQ Book Review: Editor's Choice

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Calypso by David Sedaris

272 pages 

Little, Brown & Company, 2018

$28

The first morning I had my copy of Calypso, my espresso pot unleashed a spray of coffee onto the handsome cover of the book. The cover reference is an obscure one, you’ll have to pay attention to find it within the pages. Later, during dinner, I spilled two drops of red wine on it.

“David Sedaris would approve,” I thought.

In this collection we are once again treated to the writer’s particular brand of humor. Sedaris reminds us that no matter how we think of ourselves--we are all particularly, spectacularly human. In “Little Guy,” an essay on identity as it relates to Sedaris’ stature, he muses on why being a short male is not a celebrated thing. (I can relate.) In “The One(s) Who Got Away” he muses over the number of men he his and his partner Hugh have slept with. He finds their numbers astonishing. (Who also can relate?)  

He lets us know his family was the one group to which he really wanted to belong, and he does. For all their faults. Perhaps controversially, in “Now We Are Five” he reflects on the nature of his family. His mutually famous sister Amy Sedaris of course features into the latest collection. But in this one he shares his sister Tiffanny’s  death. She died alone, at her own hands, and when the piece first appeared in the New York Times he was criticized for his depiction of his late sister.

People claimed he was too critical of her, but throughout the other stories he reveals her to be have always been relatively foreign to the seemingly happy family unit. Some people, even family members, can be difficult and perhaps unworthy of or unwilling to be loved. As in all of his work, things are not sugar-coated. He also recounts his mother asking if he’s queer during his adolesence.

Fitbit. Foxes. Ghosts. Guest rooms. He and his sibling’s obsession with shopping. Buying a beach house and naming it the Sea Section--despite his father’s insisting it should be named for either the late matriarch or recently departed sister, Tiffany. Although he is clearly a sentimental person, Sedaris doesn’t want to make his home a memorial. In Calypso we are once again drawn into a relatively normal life. One where nobody is perfect. And, why would you want them to be perfect?

We also learn he and Hugh Hamrick get married. Not because they each particularly believe in the cause of marriage. Sensibly, as much as one might literally wear multiple hats as the writer claims to do, it’s for something even more sacred: taxes.

The writing, if you follow David Sedaris, is familiar. His writing is very much a family affair. But not obscure enough to distract or make you feel left out as you enjoy the beach, or some otherwise summery activity. As in all of his work, he invites you to be a part of that club to which he so proudly and happily belongs, his family.