I approach a David Sedaris book in the same way I used to approach an Eminem album with the question “What has happened since the last album?” In the case of Sedaris it’s “What has happened since the last book?”. Sedaris is a fearless writer, sometimes painfully so, and that fearlessness and willingness to expose some ugly behavior make his writing compelling whether you like him or not.
Happy Go Lucky was written before and during (because it hasn’t ended) the pandemic. That would be the COVID-19 pandemic for anyone that stumbles on this review in the far future. His subjects this time are the usual suspects: his family, his partner Hugh, odd neighbors, traveling, and various observations along the way. While writing the book his father died and more than one essay examines the fractured relationship between David and his father, and his father and the other siblings. He also spends more time in these essays with his sisters, especially Gretchen and Amy.
There are sections that are tough to read, as they deal with the suicide of his sister Tiffany Sedaris and allegations she made years before that her father had raped her. Allegations that appear to be untrue, or at least unproven, leaving the rest of the family not sure what to make of it given how erratic Tiffany’s behavior had always been. However, some of the descriptions of their father’s bizarre and inappropriate behavior when they were children certainly cause some raised eyebrows. Sedaris approaches these essays with the same mix of wry observation and candor that he does in the more lighthearted entries and seems to be using the act of writing to come to terms with his complicated and difficult family dynamics.
A standout is “A Better Place”, a caustic and very funny rebuke to the cliches we use at funerals. It is one of the shortest essays and yet its brevity makes the moral hit harder.
You, meanwhile, have to hear things like “Well, I know that your father did his best.” People love saying that when a parent dies. It’s the first thing they reach for. A man can beat his wife with car antennas, can trade his children for drugs or motorcycles, but still, when he finally, mercifully dies, his survivors have to hear from some know-nothing at the post-funeral dinner that he did his best.
Happy Go Lucky is a strong collection and worth reading for fans. I don’t think I would recommend starting here because at this point the players in Sedaris’ life are already well established.