Calypso by David Sedaris (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 272 pp)

David Sedaris is an American humorist and the author of Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, among many others. He graduated from the School of Art Institute of Chicago and currently lives in West Sussex, England.

When You’re Here, You’re Here

When you’re here, your family. Or as a comedian suggested in his faux AI take on Olive Garden, when you’re here, you’re here.

The sentiment from either slogan pushes for the value of place when building relationships.

For families, aging scatters family members to the wind. Kids grow up, leave their parents, chart their own path. So, then what are the ties that bind and how can families keep it all together?

David Sedaris’ Calypso uses the purchase of a vacation home on the North Carolina coast as the central framing device for his latest collection of essays exploring aging, family trauma, and collective political trauma.

The Sea Section

The Sea Section as he humorously coins the home, isn’t much on the aesthetics side:

“From outside, our house on the North Carolina coast—the Sea Section—is nothing much to look at. It might have been designed by a ten-year-old with a ruler, that’s how basic it is: walls, roof, windows, deck. It’s easy to imagine the architect putting down his crayon and shouting into the next room, ‘I’m done. Can I watch TV now’” (195)?

But, it functions as a rallying point for the family Sedaris still has. The relatives gather for the holidays and for summer getaways. Long walks on the beach, board games (Sorry!), and sun tanning comprise most of the time spent.

Someone Brought Up Politics

But, the more complicated elements of family are also present. As with any large family, time spent together moves to politics and the gaps in political positions emerge.

“Eight. I join my family on Emerald Isle for Thanksgiving and have a great screaming fight with my Republican father, who yells at one point, ‘Donald Trump is not an asshole!’ I find this funny but at the same time surprising. Regardless of whether you voted for him, I thought the president-elect’s identity as a despicable human being was something we could all agree on. I mean, he pretty much ran on it” (190).

Sedaris on the Serious Side

Even more, the shadow of Sedaris’ younger sister and her death by suicide haunts the family. Separated from the fold, most of the core members had long since disconnected with this sister. But a death in the family, especially by those means, creates angst and fear in the facade.

“Still, it seemed incredible to me that something like this could happen, for we were middle-class and I’d been raised to believe that our social status inoculated us against server misfortune. A person might be broke from time to time—who wasn’t?—but you could never be poor the way that actual poor people were: poor with lice and missing teeth. Your genes would reject it. Slip too far beneath the surface, and wouldn’t your family resuscitate you with a loan or rehab or whatever it was you needed to get back on your feet” (55)?

Can everything be just fine?

Keeping It in the Family

Despite all of these concerns, family is family. And when you eat together, in one place, with a roof over your head, you are family.

Calypso has all the humor of a standard Sedaris book, with a dash of sombre for good measure. In all, it is an entertaining read.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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