This isn’t so much a review, as a love letter to the mind of David Sedaris. You’ll just have to bear with me here…
I first heard David Sedaris on the This American Life podcast. His storytelling was always peppered with humour, wry, and occasionally intensely personal. But what captured me most was his voice. It was so mild… verging on prim at times. Which makes his storytelling all the more engaging, as his voice rarely matches his topics. David Sedaris’ delightfully dark and twisted humour is second-to-none. His sister, Amy (who voices Princess Caroline, my favourite character in Bojack Horseman) seems to share his irreverent love for the absurd.
A few years ago, my best friend and I flew to Sydney so that we could hear Sedaris read in the flesh. He commanded the stage at the Sydney Opera House, despite his quiet tone and diminutive stature. If I recall correctly, that night he was wearing a pinafore. His performance was a worthy challenge to my pelvic floor muscles. I like to think all in attendance peed a little while laughing that night. It was a singularly delightful and memorable evening.
In 2013, tragedy struck the Sedaris family. As told in his touching ‘Now We Are Five’ reflection featured in the New Yorker, he lost a sister Tiffany to suicide. This loss, and his knee-jerk reaction to buy a beach-house (The Sea Section), are the common threads that run though his collection of recollections in Calypso. Many of the stories in Calypso were familiar to me, as he’d told them at the Sydney Opera House. His lovable alcoholic mother. His adoration for Japanese fashion. His befriending of a wild fox. His aging and stubborn father. His fitbit obsession. The familiarity of these stories did not lessen my enjoyment of the novel. On the contrary, as I read I could hear his voice, which only added to the experience.
My husband is not overly familiar with the works of Sedaris, so one night (me, staying up too late reading; him, staying up too late gaming), he stumbled to bed to find me having a giggling fit. I was able to catch my breath long enough to briefly retell Sedaris’ attempt at feeding a lipoma (which he had shadily removed by an alleged ‘nurse’ from one of his tour audiences) to his favourite cancerous snapping turtle. Yes, you read that correctly. How can such an anecdote be humorous, touching, disgusting, and delightful all at once? I don’t know, but it damn well is.
Here, I’ll give up any semblance of a review and just share some of my favourite passages from Calypso:
There are three other branches of Kapital in Tokyo, and we visited them all, and stayed in each one until our fingerprints were on everything. “My God,” Gretchen said, trying on a hat that seemed to have been modeled after a used toilet brush and adding it to her pile, “this place is amazing. I had no idea!”
Did it help, I wondered, that my favourite turtle was the one with the oversize tumor on his head and half of his front foot missing? Did that make me a friend of the sick and suffering, or just the kind of guy who wants both ice cream and whipped cream on his pie? Aren’t snapping turtles terrible enough? Did I really need to supersize one with a cancerous growth?
“Did you just tell that lady you’re a doctor?” Amy would ask. “A little,” I’d say.
“My new thing,” I told her, “is to look at the menu and say, ‘I’d like to purchase the veal chop.'”
That night at dinner, neither of us mentioned the previous evening’s conversation. We talked about this and that, our little projects, the lives of our neighbours, and then we retreated to different parts of the house – engaged, I suppose, our whole lives ahead of us.
My fury isn’t poetry, just greeting-card prose: “Go to hell, you.”
Okay okay, enough. I’ll stop.
Bottom line – I loved this novel. And if you love it, I bet I’d love you too. I feel like the people who ‘get’ and love David Sedaris are part of a small, dwindling club of humanity. We might be difficult, not terribly humble, introspective, divisive. But damnit, we know funny.
5 out of 5 culotte-adorned stars.