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October 1, 2018 | by  | in Books | [ssba]


Books by David Sedaris almost always contain what can probably be best described as “collections of personal essays”, and the latest of these was recently published under the title Calypso. Once again, he’s written what makes for a super funny (and yet also sad) book which reads in true Sedaris style. That is to say: Sedaris’ books are unique, and thereby kind of hard to define. He has reinvented the memoir game, in that these essays he writes often read as fiction, but the stories he tells are all (apparently) true and based on his everyday life.
In one of the essays found in Calypso, Sedaris gets angry at a family member when she suggests that the day-to-day tales he recounts for the people around him are embellished. And while reading his books, it can sometimes be pretty easy to see where she comes from, as many of the scenarios he describes seem too bizarre to be entirely true (a solid example of this in Calypso being Sedaris’ account of a time where he fed a lipoma cut from his own body to a snapping turtle).
But after reading a couple of his essays, one will probably start to find that Sedaris is just a bit of a weird guy, and reading his writing is fun because he doesn’t shy away from his idiosyncrasies. Calypso in particular is startlingly truthful in terms of Sedaris’ exposure of himself, whether concerning light-hearted matters or not (one of its taglines being: “it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself”). This honesty and self-awareness makes Calypso really funny, occasionally dark, and moving – sometimes all at once.
And in this way it is much the same as every other one of Sedaris’ books. The laughter mixed with sadness found in stories about his family, his travels, his bickering with his partner Hugh, and his constant use of self-deprecating humour can almost be put to a formula by this point. But this doesn’t make Calypso boring or unoriginal: one of Sedaris’ greatest gifts is his endless astute observation, not only of himself but of the world around him, and here he uses this ability to tell wonderfully insightful stories better than ever.
In Calypso, these observations are, as always, largely fed by Sedaris’ close relationships with his siblings, but this time also by his purchase of a holiday house at the beach where they used to stay as children, by the current political climate in the U.S., by his getting older, and by his younger sister’s recent suicide. The chapters involving her can be really hard to read, as Sedaris unflinchingly discusses their strained relationship and her mental illness.
So, if you’re interested in reading about topics including: eccentric families; the mixed feelings of disappointment and hope experienced by queer people and leftists in this hellish world; and the many interesting strangers Sedaris comes across and probes for detail – all as seen through his misanthropic yet somehow also affectionate view of the world – then Calypso is for you. Only David Sedaris can have you laughing out loud on one page (such as when he describes the lengths he goes to avoid spending too much quality time with his siblings when they come to visit) and in tears on the next (when he hugs their used sheets to his chest after they leave).


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