By David Sedaris
Genre: Creative Nonfiction Essays/Memoir
I’m in love with David Sedaris. It happened in high school. I think it was when I read Me Talk Pretty One Day that I realized writing could be funny. Of course I’d read Twain, and yes, he was funny, but Sedaris was alive and breathing. He was somehow tangible. He was writing about himself. He felt more real.
Calypso opens with an essay titled “Company Man” in which Sedaris talks about reaching middle age. He looks around at his family and wonders if this will be the last visit, the last holiday, last birthday. Like all of his books, his storytelling is full of strained relationships, seemingly ridiculous experiences, obsessive behavior, and conversations normally not allowed out of the family den. But they are told in a way that makes them laughable and approachable. His self-deprecating style gives us breathing room, makes him feel like a normal person because we’ve all been there in one way or another. He creates seamless movement from story to story. He’s worrying about middle age in the beginning and, in the next story “Now We Are Five,” he introduces the death of his sister. This is an incredible image because they used to be six. Six children. Not five. And that complicates and forever changes things.
In “A House Divided,” he explains in more detail about his sister’s death. I can be laughing out loud while reading one of his stories and then taking a deep breath to ease the sorrow in my throat in the same minute. This happens a lot. He’s a master with uncomplicated subtext. In a few lines he discusses the possibility of someone walking on the beach. Perhaps that someone would look up at Sedaris’ house, wondering about the people inside. He writes,
“If it [the other person’s house] was smaller than the Sea Section, or less well positioned, they maybe looked up into our gaily lit windows and resented us, wondering, as we often did ourselves these days, what we had done to deserve all this.”
It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?
He writes candidly in another about a tumor he had removed, the circumstances of which I will leave for the reader, and then stores it in his beach house freezer (illegally) with the intent to feed it to a snapping turtle. I’m not sure what his therapist would say about his wanting to feed part of himself to an animal. But whatever it means, I’m sure Sedaris would want to know and then share it with his readers. Toward the end of the book, he approaches the subject of his father’s age and his inevitable death, ending where he began with the question of mortality.
There is a roundness, completeness to this compilation of stories. And while a great deal of this book deals with grief, loss, those voids in our lives that come sometimes when we’re not ready (are we ever?) I felt a sense of understanding from Sedaris. I’m not worried about him.