May 3, 2019

Book Review: Calypso by David Sedaris


by David Sedaris

Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir, Essay, Humor
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Length: 272 pages
Published: May 29, 2018
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"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."


"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."


"Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age. The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you’ll acquire a guest room. Some people get one by default when their kids leave home, and others, like me, eventually trade up and land a bigger house. “Follow me,” I now say. The room I lead our visitors to has not been hastily rearranged to accommodate them. It does not double as an office or weaving nook but exists for only one purpose. I have furnished it with a bed rather than a fold-out sofa, and against one wall, just like in a hotel, I’ve placed a luggage rack. The best feature, though, is its private bathroom.

'If you prefer a shower to a tub, I can put you upstairs in the second guest room,' I say. 'There’s a luggage rack up there as well.' I hear these words coming from my puppet-lined mouth and shiver with middle-aged satisfaction....

Three of my sisters visited us in Sussex the Christmas of 2012, so Gretchen and Amy took a guest room each. Hugh and I gave Lisa the master bedroom and moved next door to the converted stable I use as my office. One of the things he noted during their stay was that, with the exception of Amy and me, no one in my family ever says goodnight. Rather, they just leave the room—sometimes halfway through dinner—and reappear the following morning. My sisters were considered my guests, but because there was a group of them and they could easily entertain one another, I was more or less free to go about my business. Not that I didn’t spend time with them. In various pairings we went on walks and bike rides, but otherwise they sat in the living room talking, or gathered in the kitchen to study Hugh at the stove. I’d join them for a while and then explain that I had some work to do. This meant going next door to the stable, where I’d switch on my computer and turn to Google, thinking, I wonder what Russell Crowe is up to.

One of the reasons I’d invited these three over—had gone so far as to buy their tickets—was that this felt like a last hurrah. Except for Paul, who has no passport but tells me with great certainty that, according to an electrician he met on a job site, it is possible to buy one at the airport, we are all in our fifties now. Healthwise, we’ve been fortunate, but it’s just a matter of time before our luck runs out and one of us gets cancer. Then we’ll be picked off like figures at a shooting gallery, easy targets given the lives we’ve led."

My Book Review:

I've been a fan of David Sedaris since I first read his memoirs maybe a decade ago. He has a gift for telling the absolute, exposed truth about his life--the pain, the shame, the embarrassment, and the grief--with a gift for humor that's genuine and sincere.

With his last couple of books, I had felt (maybe mistakenly so) that Sedaris had drifted from his original voice, but to me Calypso perfectly recaptured what I was so drawn to at first: a brilliant ability to combine his confessions of the painful and the profound with irreverent humor that kept me laughing throughout the entire book. Actual laugh-out-loud humor, not just smirks or chuckles.

This collection of essays felt very unified: a journey through Sedaris's grief and guilt after the suicide of one of his sisters, and his deep desire to draw close to his remaining family members by recreating their childhood's seaside retreat. It is here, on the coast in their new vacation home, that Sedaris sorts through his political pains from the recent election, confesses his increasing obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and examines the ebbs and flows of his family relationships through the last few years.

His messages are thoughtful, unapologetically raw, and candid, but his gift for dealing with these emotions through laughter makes the experience such a joy for his reader.

If you've never read Sedaris before, yes, his narratives contain cursing and references to sex unsuitable to some audiences. That being said, Calypso was possibly my favorite of all of his books thus far--the deepest look into Sedaris's head and heart that audiences may have ever yet had.

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