David Sedaris has never been quite so preoccupied with mortality as he is in “Calypso,” his latest collection of essays.
“Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age,” he writes in “Company Man.” “The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you’ll acquire a guest room.”
Sedaris is 61; not only is he not young, he’s not even middle-aged anymore. His siblings, partner Hugh and irascible father are older, too. Even his readers are no longer youthful. Our knees crack. Our drug of choice is Advil. We have lost parents and are losing lovers, friends and siblings, which means Sedaris’ words, hilarious as they can be, sometimes hit home with a painful thwack.
But Sedaris isn’t sentimental about his mortality or anyone else’s, despite the shadow that lingers over “Calypso” — the suicide of his troubled sister Tiffany in 2013, a few weeks before her 50th birthday.
Although he refuses to believe in ghosts, he admits in “Boo-Hooey” that Tiffany appears in his dreams. “In fact, we never talk about her. Just me,” he writes. (“That’s how you know it’s a dream,” sister Amy replies.) His long-dead mother pops in to chat, too.
He offers a startling, seemingly callous confession about Tiffany in “The Spirit World.” Without going into detail about what drove them apart, he writes that the last time he saw Tiffany, she showed up at a reading and he ordered a security guard to shut a door in her face.
“We hadn’t spoken in four years at that point. … I never saw her or spoke to her again. Not when she was evicted from her apartment. Not when she was raped. Not when she was hospitalized after her first suicide attempt. She was, I told myself, someone else’s problem.”
Most of “Calypso” is funny, of course. Sedaris discourses on Fitbit addiction, the difficulty of getting a surgeon to give you a tumor so you can feed it to a snapping turtle, and the insults people around the globe hurl at drivers who cut them off in traffic (none of which can be repeated here).
The latter essay will leave you helpless with laughter. The final essay, “The Comey Memo,” merely leaves you feeling helpless. Sedaris confronts, then abandons, the dilemma presented by his declining father, who can’t take care of himself or the family house but refuses to leave it. Forcing him out is impossible. It’s easier to talk about how someone saw James Comey in the neighborhood.
These glimpses of the end remind Sedaris of what lies ahead: “In late middle age, when you envision your life ten years down the line, you’re more likely to see a bedpan than a Tony Award.”
So enjoy those guest rooms while you can.
Connie Ogle is a Florida-based writer.
By: David Sedaris.
Publisher: Little, Brown, 259 pages, $28.
Event: 7 p.m. June 13, Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. The ticketed event is sold out, but the public is welcome to join the book-signing line after the event.