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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 449

Calypso is a series of essays by David Sedaris about his family, the new beach house he and his husband purchased, and how they're all coping with aging, death, and current events.

Company Man talks about reaching middle age and how one of the only real perks is getting a...

(The entire section contains 2423 words.)

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Calypso is a series of essays by David Sedaris about his family, the new beach house he and his husband purchased, and how they're all coping with aging, death, and current events.

Company Man talks about reaching middle age and how one of the only real perks is getting a guest room. He talks about how he got one when he and Hugh upgraded to a bigger house—and he has two guest rooms now. However, they attract guests.

Now We Are Five talks about the suicide of his youngest sister in 2013. He says it affected his sense of identity.

Little Guy is about Google personalization, Rock Hudson, and David's life as a shorter man. He didn't like being described as slight and effeminate by a journalist.

Stepping Out talks about his Fitbit and how he likes to push himself harder to get more steps.

A House Divided talks about travel and the beach house.

The Perfect Fit is about clothes and relationships between the siblings.

Leviathan talks about how people change their diets in crazy ways when they get older. For example, his brother says that apricot seeds prevent cancer.

Your English Is So Good talks about the Pimsleur foreign language course and communication while traveling in other countries.

Calypso discusses how there's always something to be afraid of—like SARS. Sedaris also says that he wants to feed a tumor he's having removed to a turtle.

A Modest Proposal talks about gay marriage legalization and Sedaris's choice to marry Hugh.

The Silent Treatment talks about his difficulty in communicating with his father.

Untamed talks about a fox named Carol that Sedaris fed and eventually lost.

The One(s) Who Got Away details a quick conversation Sedaris had with his husband about how many people they'd slept with.

Sorry talks about spending time at the beach with his family and about the difference between his family and his husband's.

Boo-Hooey reveals how he doesn't like hearing about dreams or ghosts.

A Number of Reasons I've Been Depressed Lately discusses Donald Trump and the political climate in 2015 and 2016.

Why Aren't You Laughing? talks about how his mother was a different person when she started drinking at night.

I'm Still Standing tells the story of a man who had an accident on a plane.

The Spirit World talks about a psychic that David's sisters interact with and his feelings about communicating with the dead.

And While You're Up There, Check On My Prostate talks about popular curses in other countries.

The Comey Memo talks about James Comey staying near the Sedaris family. It also discusses how his father doesn't want to take help from anyone even though he's getting older.

Summary

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1974

Author: David Sedaris (b. 1956)

Publisher: Little, Brown (New York). 272 pp.

Type of work: Essays, memoir

Time: 2012–17

Locales: West Sussex, England; Emerald Isle, North Carolina

In Calypso, David Sedaris shares his humorous yet often insightful observations on family, death, grief, aging, and other aspects of his everyday life.

Principal personages

David Sedaris, the author, an established humorist and memoirist

Hugh Hamrick, his longtime partner

Lisa, Gretchen, Amy, and Paul, his siblings

Tiffany Sedaris, his youngest sister, who committed suicide in 2013

Lou Sedaris, his father

Sharon Sedaris, his deceased mother

Since the early 1990s, storyteller David Sedaris has earned both widespread popularity and critical acclaim for his work, which blends humor, memoir, and fiction to create funny and meaningful observations on both his own personal life and the world around him. His many short written works—described frequently as essays and sometimes as stories, depending on one’s view of the importance of factual accuracy in comedic writing—have often dealt with Sedaris’s early life as one of six children, his youth in North Carolina, and his subsequent relationships with his siblings and parents. His 2018 collection of twenty-one pieces, Calypso, continues in that mode, exploring his ongoing interactions with his siblings and elderly father as they confront the realities of aging, health scares, and death. Alongside such serious topics, however, Sedaris also takes time to point out the absurdities of life, from commonly used phrases he hates to the medical field’s policies regarding disposal of excised tumors. While many of the twenty-one pieces in Calypso were previously published in venues such as the NewYorker, the Guardian, and the Paris Review and others are newly presented in the collection, the collection ultimately forms a cohesive whole that displays the signature wit and entertaining literary style Sedaris has cultivated over several decades.

Calypso begins with the essay “Company Man,” in which Sedaris discusses what he characterizes as one of the few perks of middle age: owning a home with a guest room. His home in West Sussex, England, in fact features multiple guest rooms, and Sedaris notes that he and his longtime partner Hugh often host guests. He focuses on one 2012 visit from his sisters Gretchen, Lisa, and Amy, which he had felt was potentially a “last hurrah” before he and his siblings, nearly all of whom were in their fifties by that point, began to risk being “picked off like figures at a shooting gallery” by diseases such as cancer, which had killed their mother decades before. As the first essay in the collection, “Company Man” serves as a useful introduction to Sedaris and his family, reacquainting readers familiar with his earlier work with familiar names and both easing new readers into the complexities of Sedaris’s life and introducing them to his characteristic style and sense of humor. At the same time, the essay serves to create a false expectation for the events that will come next. Sedaris tells the reader that his sisters’ visit may be the last time the four of them are all together and that the ailments that they will endure will be physical. Life, however, proves both of those points inaccurate.Courtesy of Little, Brown

The second essay in Calypso, “Now We Are Five,” upends the expectations put forth in “Company Man” with its first sentence, which reveals that in May 2013, Sedaris’s youngest sister, Tiffany, committed suicide at the age of forty-nine. While the essay focuses in part on Tiffany’s personal history, it largely concerns the author’s reaction to the death of his sister, to whom he had not spoken for eight years. Having previously identified heavily as one of six siblings, Sedaris grapples with the concept of becoming one of only five and struggles to understand why Tiffany would have taken her own life. Following that event, however, the bond between the remaining members of the Sedaris family appears to have strengthened. Sedaris recounts that shortly after Tiffany’s death, the family gathered for a previously planned vacation in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, an area in which they had visited regularly earlier in life. Partway through the vacation, Sedaris spontaneously purchased a beach house that he named the Sea Section. The beach house serves as the setting for many of the subsequent pieces in Calypso, which make it clear that the 2012 visit mentioned in “Company Man” was far from the last hurrah for the Sedaris family. Over the subsequent years, the extended family gathered at the Sea Section on multiple occasions, many of which provided extensive inspiration for later essays documenting the family members’ interactions and Sedaris’s amusing insights. Encompassing both essays originally published elsewhere and brand-new works, Calypso can at times become slightly repetitive, such as when Sedaris introduces people and the location multiple times: the author reminds the reader that the Sea Section is the name of his North Carolina beach house on several occasions, for instance, and he reintroduces brother Paul’s daughter, Madelyn, as his niece in several different essays. Nevertheless, such reminders are largely unobtrusive and help readers make sense of the large family that has featured prominently in much of Sedaris’s writing.

In addition to Tiffany’s suicide and its aftermath, Calypso tackles a number of emotionally fraught topics related to Sedaris’s family. The author’s elderly father is a major subject of concern as Sedaris seeks to navigate their relationship, which is hampered by a general lack of communication between father and son as well as by their incompatible political beliefs and the elder Sedaris’s refusal to move into a retirement home or hire domestic help. Indeed, while many of the details of Sedaris’s relationship with his father are specific to their relationship, the concerns about the welfare of aging relatives expressed in a number of Calypso’s essays will likely ring particularly true to readers who have experienced similar situations. Sedaris likewise delves into his mother’s alcoholism, which became particularly troubling during the period between when the Sedaris children left home and her death in 1991, in the essay “Why Aren’t You Laughing?” A powerful piece, the essay explores Sedaris’s feelings of guilt for not acknowledging his mother’s alcoholism for what it was during her lifetime or stepping in to help her. At the same time, he calls attention to the connection between him and his mother, a storyteller who—much like Sedaris himself—specialized in “the real-life story, perfected and condensed.” © Ingrid Christie

Alongside his discussions of his family’s past and ongoing interactions, Sedaris devotes a significant portion of Calypso to the health issues that became some of his prominent concerns in middle age. In “Stepping Out,” he chronicles the obsession with hitting his daily step goal that developed following his purchase of a Fitbit fitness tracker, which pushed him to shoot for even higher goals and drove him to range farther and farther from home in his daily mission of picking up litter from the sides of roads in West Sussex. “I’m Still Standing” deals with a gastrointestinal illness that plagued Sedaris during a speaking tour, the evocative description of which is both disgusting and all too realistic. Perhaps the most memorable incident in Calypso occurs in the title essay, in which Sedaris recounts the events surrounding a highly unorthodox surgery to remove a benign fatty tumor known as a lipoma from his abdomen. Determined to feed the tumor to a snapping turtle that lived near his beach house, Sedaris refused to have the lipoma removed by the first surgeon he visited, as the surgeon told him that it would be illegal to give Sedaris the tumor after it was removed. The author goes on to recount meeting a doctor at a public appearance in Texas and undergoing a clandestine surgery to remove the lipoma, which was then sent to one of his sisters for safekeeping. At the end of “Calypso,” Sedaris is thwarted in his mission of feeding the lipoma to the turtle, having learned that the turtles are hibernating for the winter. In the essay “Sorry,” however, Sedaris resumes his quest, undaunted by the death of the turtle he had previously selected, and recounts that he ultimately fed the lipoma to a group of turtles gathered behind a shopping plaza.

Dealing primarily with the period between 2012 and 2017, Calypso focuses largely on happenings concerning Sedaris and the members of his family but also delves somewhat into the political atmosphere during that period. In “A Modest Proposal,” Sedaris recalls his response to the US Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, which prompted him to propose to Hugh eighteen times in an attempt to take advantage of the tax benefits now available to them. “A Number of Reasons I’ve Been Depressed Lately” concerns the events leading up to and immediately following the 2016 US presidential election, while the final essay in the collection, “The Comey Memo,” begins with the extended Sedaris family’s realization that former Federal Bureau of Investigations director James Comey is vacationing at a house down the street from the Sea Section. While such essays ostensibly deal with current events and politics, they ultimately provide Sedaris with further opportunities to explore his relationships with the people around him and the complicated nature of being a family in the twenty-first century.

Upon its publication in 2018, Calypso received widespread critical acclaim, with many critics commenting on how the essays featured in the book dealt with somewhat darker topics than Sedaris’s usual fare. In a positive review for the Washington Post, Rachel Manteuffel identified Sedaris’s writing as “a touch crueler” than it has been in the past, while a reviewer for Kirkus identified the book as an example of Sedaris at both his darkest and his best. Sarah Crown, in a review for the Guardian, called Calypso Sedaris’s “most truthful work yet,” commenting on both the emotional truthfulness that she argues has always defined his work as well as the author’s efforts to provide a more revealing look at “his former careful management of his and his family’s stories.” Indeed, reviewers particularly focused on elements of the book related to Sedaris’s family, including Tiffany’s suicide, his mother’s alcoholism, and the Sedaris siblings’ concerns about their aging father. At the same time, however, critics widely noted that despite Calypso’s focus on several serious topics, the essays collected in the book retain the signature humor for which Sedaris has long been known. The reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the book “sidesplitting,” while in a review for NPR, Heller McAlpin wrote that “reading Sedaris’ family stories is like tuning into a spectacularly well-written sit-com.” Although McAlpin asserted in her review that not all of the pieces in Calypso are outstanding, she went on to identify Sedaris as the best contemporary American humorist.

Review Sources

  • Review of Calypso, by David Sedaris. Kirkus, 20 Feb. 2018, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/david-sedaris/calypso-sedaris/. Accessed 30 Sept. 2018.
  • Review of Calypso, by David Sedaris. Publishers Weekly, 19 Mar. 2018, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-316-39238-9. Accessed 30 Sept. 2018.
  • Crown, Sarah. “Calypso by David Sedaris Review—A Family Affair.” The Guardian, 26 July 2018, www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/26/calypso-david-sedaris-review. Accessed 30 Sept. 2018.
  • Cumming, Alan. “David Sedaris Has a New Essay Collection. It Changed Alan Cumming’s Whole Worldview.” Review of Calypso, by David Sedaris. The New York Times, 25 May 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/05/25/books/review/david-sedaris-calypso.html. Accessed 30 Sept. 2018.
  • Manteuffel, Rachel. “After Nine Books, What More Could David Sedaris Have to Say? A Great Deal.” Review of Calypso, by David Sedaris. The Washington Post, 29 May 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/after-nine-books-what-more-could-david-sedaris-have-to-say-a-great-deal/2018/05/28/e5ea9d5e-5e90-11e8-b2b8-08a538d9dbd6_story.html. Accessed 30 Sept. 2018.
  • McAlpin, Heller. “In ‘Calypso,’ David Sedaris Blends Slime and the Sublime.” Review of Calypso, by David Sedaris. NPR, 30 May 2018, www.npr.org/2018/05/30/613149372/in-calypso-david-sedaris-blends-slime-and-the-sublime. Accessed 30 Sept. 2018.
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