Friday, June 15, 2018

Book Review: "Calypso" by David Sedaris

For me, reading David Sedaris' books is like hanging out with that slightly strange friend—you may think you're crazy, but at least there's someone crazier than you out there!

I've been reading Sedaris' books on and off for a number of years, since his first collection, Barrel Fever, in 1994. In addition to helping bolster my self-esteem, he's always good for a fair amount of chuckling, giggling, and all-out belly laughing, not to mention his unique ability to highlight some of life's frustrating, mystifying, and joy-inducing foibles. Plus, every now and again he simply makes me gasp at his observations.

Calypso, his newest collection, certainly is chock-full of laughs, and there's a good supply of slightly gross observations about bodily functions and other physical issues. But I wasn't prepared for how emotionally rich this collection would be—on a number of occasions I found myself getting a little choked up as Sedaris pondered growing older, the aging and death of family members, the legalization of same-sex marriage and what it meant for his relationship with his boyfriend, even the mood of the country following the 2016 presidential election.

It's funny—in one story Sedaris talks about his mother-in-law, and how she "likes to interrupt either to accuse you of exaggerating—'Oh, now, that's not true'—or to defend the person you're talking about, someone, most often, she has never met." Some of his observations are so outlandish that I'll admit occasionally thinking like his mother-in-law, saying to myself, "That can't be true." Regardless of whether it is or not, Sedaris had me latching on to his every word.

I'm not a Puritan by any means, but I'll admit there were a few stories that were a little heavy on bodily functions and feeding things to animals (read the book and you'll know what I'm referring to). However, so much of this book was terrific, beautifully written, funny, wry, sarcastic, and even poignant. In many of the stories (as is often the case), Sedaris spoke of his family and his relationship with his father, which continues to confound him, even as his father moves into his 90s.

"Honestly, though, does choice even come into it? Is it my fault that the good times fade to nothing while the bad ones burn forever bright? Memory aside, the negative just makes for a better story: the plane was delayed, an infection set in, outlaws arrived and reduced the schoolhouse to ashes. Happiness is harder to put into words. It's also harder to source, much more mysterious than anger or sorrow, which come to me promptly, whenever I summon them, and remain long after I've begged them to leave."

Calypso is a pretty terrific book, further testament to Sedaris' skill as a storyteller, a social commentator, and an observer of this crazy world we live in. His writing is great for some laughs (don't be shocked if you laugh out loud a time or two, so if you're self-conscious, don't read this in public), and this book is good for a few tears as well!

1 comment:

  1. Cannot wait. I don’t read as often (quickly?) as you, so it’s next in the queue after I finish James Hart’s “Lucky Jim” (have you read?) and just before Guy Branum’s memoir!