David Sedaris is, for many, an acquired taste – the honesty and often wryly accurate and pointed observations about family, relationships, life, and people aren’t always pretty or prosaic, but are spot on in that little voice that many haven’t the courage to say.
I loved this book – far different from others I’ve read (and I’ve read them all) from Sedaris, this series of essays from the now 60-ish man are poignant, funny, shocking, angry, sentimental, and illustrative. My first introduction to his work was in a story told on NPR radio in which he is ‘Crumpet the Elf’ in a Christmas Santa display. Quickly, he became a storyteller favorite, as this one seasonal job is a favorite of listeners and exposes the ‘dark underbelly’ of all that joy and tinsel. Now several years later, the middle-aged Sedaris is back: reminiscing about family, relationships, people and even his fitbit in Calypso.
It’s a collection that gradually tightens its hold on your attention and heart: like a boa, it starts with the joys of the ‘spare room’, dedicated and used ONLY for guests with a luggage rack, real bed and en suite. Or, the ‘second’ guest room, upstairs, with a bathtub rather than a shower. A sign of being a ‘real grownup’ and with that frisson of “middle-aged satisfaction’, it is instantly clear that this series of stories is of the now – the changes as age creeps up, attitudes change and a dedicated guest room becomes a symbol that epitomizes arrival at that nebulous point of “success’. Of course, this leads to ‘proper behavior’ for the hosting couple: from choreographed displays of support and affection through reaction to oft-told stories, ‘who’ is responsible for and to the quests (His, Yours or Ours), the quirks of family and behavior (just walking out when the conversation / story isn’’t engaging, not saying goodnight, entering in the middle of a story), and every moment is eay to visualize, imagine and wonder about. From here – the stories range from questions you WANT to ask a stranger – mostly to get a reaction, but perhaps because you are a bit curious, to the words that should be banned evermore and never pass your lips, their banality and overuse make them nonsense platitudes, especially in the service industry.
Much time is spent reminiscing and discussing his sister’s suicide, his mother’s death (in 1991 but still rippling through the family), his aging father and the oddly transformative relationships that are had with siblings – the changes as they move from shared interests to shared mocking, sorrows, questions and simple proximity. Relationships and people are explored and discussed: shopping (endlessly) in Japan and the odd things brought home, his obsession with his ‘steps’ and fitbit, worn just under his Apple watch which also cues activity: stand, sit, walk. His collection of badges for steps, and his routine of cleaning the roads near his Sussex home, getting in those 7 miles (or so) of steps.
Relationships are heavily featured here: from passing interactions with cashiers and those coming to book signings, to his attempts to ‘bring everyone together’ at the shore house – for everyone but I get final say on decoration: he’s got a pinch of grumpy old man competing with an often mischievous little boy – prone to inappropriate but highly interesting questions for strangers and a slight judgmental remove when the questioned turns out to be just as expected – confused, slow and perhaps a bit aghast. His relationship with Hugh, now some twenty years on, is lovingly exasperated: they are so different yet accepting of those differences, the changes, the struggles and even his ‘permanent engagement, suggested by the accountant for tax purposes – with few intentions of an actual wedding – the overdone, boring and often all for show ceremony of marriage that people have been subjected to for ages. It’s not that he didn’t believe in the right to marry – he’d actually hoped that upon gaining the right (and completely sending the right into a tizzy) that everyone would rejoice in the ability – but not join the industry….
That’s where the beauty and joy of the observations and these stories reveal themselves. It’s a conversation, admittedly with one person monopolizing all the speaking time, but a conversation that has you comparing your thoughts, experiences and outlook to another person –and finding some common points in the humanity, the desire to connect and the equally strong desire to remain aloof and outside the drama, even as you are framing it within your own views of the world as it exists now, and how different that is from what you did, or could imagine. Sedaris has a knack of making you care about those moments that have become automatic, reacted to rather than planned for, the orchestrated interactions that never quite follow the sheet music as something or someone is consistently out of tune, and the need to move forward: being aware and adjusting as things come up, never forgetting to ask the unexpected question. I loved this (and other) books by Sedaris – the humanity that never quite loses that snarky, sarcastic and often spot-on observations make him a storyteller for these ages –
Author: David Sedaris
Genre: Adult Fiction, Essays, Humor elements
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Published on: 29 May, 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Audio Length: 6 Hours: 38 minutes
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David Sedaris returns with his most deeply personal and darkly hilarious book.
If you've ever laughed your way through David Sedaris's cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you're getting with Calypso. You'd be wrong.
When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it's impossible to take a vacation from yourself.
With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny--it's a book that can make you laugh 'til you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris's powers of observation have never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future.
This is beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke. Calypso is simultaneously Sedaris's darkest and warmest book yet--and it just might be his very best.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Though not actually political in tone, living (part time) in the south, and frequently in the US, and an American ex-pat, one expects that the current president, and those who voted for him, are a frequent question. Here’s one snip about that experience
The guy in the t-shirt that pictures a semiautomatic rifle above the message COME AND TAKE IT, the one in fatigues buying two twelve packs of beer and a tub of rice pudding, didn’t necessarily vote Republican. He could have just stayed home on election day and force-fed he women he holds captive in the crawl space beneath his living room.
That is the beauty of this man’s thought process!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: