David Sedaris’s Calypso is a delightfully peppy journey into middle age
Last year, David Sedaris, the pre-eminent American humourist who regularly sells out concert halls on both sides of the Atlantic, released a collection of diaries that, among other things, recalled his wayward youth spent hitchhiking, taking crystal meth and writing — in his own words — reams of “complete bullshit”. For fans accustomed to waspish anecdotes about rude First Class airline passengers, Theft
by Finding was something of a departure. But they’ll be relieved to discover that with his new collection Calypso, Sedaris is firmly back on his former stomping ground.
Death, wealth and middle age are once again his central preoccupations in these 21 typically arch essays. Sedaris’s subjects range from clothes shopping in Japan and adopting stray animals from his back garden, to a piece on overused phrases in the American service industry that, by rights, should feel like tired stand-up territory but somehow, in his hands, ends up snort-level funny.
It’s not all Sunday paper columnist stuff, though. Loosely tying the book together is the suicide of the youngest of Sedaris’s sisters, something he handles with grace and restraint. The story that addresses the aftermath of this tragedy most directly, “A House Divided”, sees what is left of his aging and eccentric family gather at a seaside retreat he has bought for them all and ends, poignantly, with Sedaris spotting a distant stranger on the sands and wondering if they have “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.”
Inevitably, not every essay is as strong. Not even a storyteller of Sedaris’s gifts can make endless doctor’s visits or the removal of a tumour particularly funny or interesting. But for the most part, Calypso is another triumph from the dinner-table raconteur we all wish we could be, a writer whose lightness of touch makes you confront the hardest of truths — and laugh out loud. Calypso is published on 5 July (Little, Brown)