Calypso by David Sedaris
This is my first journey into the world of David Sedaris. Calypso is described as his ‘darkest and warmest book yet’, and the author undoubtedly has a huge popular following for his books and his column in the New Yorker. Although Sedaris now lives mainly in ancient house in the south of England, some of his humour is very specifically American, which not all the world speaks fluently.
Calypso consists of 21 short pieces which are not directly linked, but have many common threads and running themes. Sedaris and his partner Hugh buy a beach house on the Carolina coast. They name it the Sea Section. The whole extended family often gather there for holidays and Thanksgiving. This affords the opportunity for them to reminisce about old times and family memories. It is also the chance for the group to swap stories and discuss the weird and wonderful people and situations they have run across in their lives. There is a lot of travel involved, and these trips, airports, and in Sedaris’ case book signings, give wonderful opportunities to meet unusual people. The stories bob back and forth between childhood and middle-age, current vacations and others long ago.
The stories themselves may not be to everyone’s taste. If you think that having a small tumour removed and then feeding it to a snapping turtle with a tumour of its own is the stuff of humour, then you are in the right place. I must admit that I did enjoy a poll of the international insults that people give to drivers who cut in front of them. Sadly all are unrepeatable here, but having got off to a weird start with the Danes and the Dutch, we canvass the Austrians, Bulgarians and Romanians only to discover that what the Transylvanians say is well beyond rude and obscene. I will leave you to check out the variety in the chapter called “And While You’re Up There, Check my Prostate”.
Humour within families is always a rich vein for stories, given how well we tend to know and understand the others involved. We often tolerate idiosyncrasies for many years and of all the humour in this book, I loved the poke that Sedaris takes at his 92 year old dad for always being late. In fact he puts down his father’s long life to him being late for death, just as he has been late for everything else. The story of Sedaris arriving at an airport expecting his dad to collect him at 6pm, gave me the biggest laugh. He rings home at six thirty to be told by his father “it’s sure as hell not six thirty here, but I’m on my way. I’m leaving the house right now.” He rings back twenty minutes later and can hear the TV in the background. His father’s response is perfect. “I told you I’m on my way. Jesus!”
Reviewer: Marcus Hobson
Hachette New Zealand, RRP $34.99