By: David Sedaris
Published May 29, 2018
From the Cover:
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.
Oh boy, I don’t know where to start. I guess I will start by saying that I belong to a very small proportion of readers who did not like Calypso (87% of almost 13,000 Goodreads readers rate it at least 4 stars). So, take what I have to say at face value like you should with any other review.
First of all, I saw this book advertised pretty much everywhere–Instagram, Barnes & Noble, BOTM, the NYT, The New Yorker, etc. Everyone loved it. Everyone said that this was one book I had to read this year. So what did I do? I listened to them and bought it. I love a good laugh and everyone said that I wouldn’t be able to stop when I started reading.
The cover of Calypso calls it Sedaris’s “most deeply personal and darkly hilarious book.” It was personal all right. Almost every story centered around his family members whom he paints as a dysfunctional-at-best bunch. Have you ever seen someone in grief at a funeral who just loses it and bursts into laughter at the fact that his or her loved one is dead? That’s the vibe I got from Sedaris in Calypso. He talks about his sister’s suicide (in my opinion, in too much detail), his mother’s alcoholism, and his inability to connect with his father even in his older age.
I didn’t like how I felt like every time Sedaris mentioned his partner, Hugh, it was almost always negative. Don’t get me wrong, it is normal to complain now and again about misunderstandings between family members, but it almost made me ask myself, “Jeez, if you don’t like him this much, why are you together?” In one of Sedaris’s stories, he asks Hugh how many partners he had before they met and Sedaris calls him a whore when he doesn’t like the answer. Is this supposed to be funny? Is slut-shaming OK if it’s your husband you are talking about? All is fair in love and war, right? I don’t know, this was just one of the many things that rubbed me the wrong way.
Overall, I found Calypso to be too dark to be humorous. He tackles some pretty heavy topics–death, suicide, alcoholism, post-election depression–that I struggled to find humor in. Some of the stories were funny (Carol the fox, feeding his tumor to some snapping turtles, and his FitBit obsession), and that is why I am giving this book some stars. If you’re looking for light humor, maybe try some of his earlier books.
Something I didn’t know before reading Sedaris is a contributor to many magazines/newspapers such as The New Yorker. A large number of the stories in this book were previously published in such mediums. 14 to be exact (they are listed under the copyright/publishing page at the beginning of the book). For reference, there are 21 total short essays in Calypso. In some ways, knowing that the majority of this book is repeated material diminishes my opinion of the book more. If I ever read another Sedaris book, I will make sure to do my research first.