Calypso by David Sedaris

January 11, 2021

I'm not sure what I expected out of David Sedaris' Calypso. I wasn't familiar with his work nor had I really ever heard of him. But I had just finished reading The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami and was essentially on a short story high- I wanted more short stories. This brought me to Calypso. Not exactly short stories, more a collection of personal essays, but they evoked the same feeling when I read them.

During this time, I was also reading/listening to Barack Obama's memoir The Promised Land, and Obama's more serious writing filled with details and almost strict writing only amplified the caustic wit and dark humour found in Sedaris' writing. It provided the perfect foil. I don't often read multiple books at once. But it was quite an experience, hopping between reading about high stakes foreign politics to Sedaris wanting to feed a snapping turtle his own tumour.

There's really two central themes in the book: family and death. These two themes don't usually go to well together, for fairly obvious reasons. Sedaris weaves the two together in a fascinatingly intimate manner that ends up working really well though. Family dynamics, when written well, are always interesting to me, especially when it's as large a family as Sedaris'.

I won't continue going on about the writing- it's all humorous, a little dark, blunt, yet engaging. But there is one part of the book that threw me off a little bit and that stuck with me: Sedaris hauntingly describes the last time he sees his sister Tiffany before she eventually commits suicide. I believe it was the night after one of his events, he sees himself as the star of the night and feels qualified to deny his sister access to him when she appears at the door, disheveled and trying to hand him something. Security shuts the door on her and he doesn't see her again.

After the whole book continuously built upon the stories of him and his relationships with his family members, this sudden and callous shutting out of his sister was unexpected to say the least. Her death was mentioned earlier in the story, glimpses of it seen here and there. This was like the final clue in an investigation. Like the reader has just discovered some tragic revelation. Sedaris manages to convey a world of emotion without having to write any of it down. So much of the book is absurd and comedic that the parts that aren't jump out that much more. Those are the parts that will stick with me longer.