(Little, Brown, $28)
At this point, “David Sedaris is practically his own genre,” said Rachel Manteuffel in The Washington Post. After 25 years and nine collections, fans of the popular essayist know pretty much what to expect—“wry, well-shaped, almost-true stories from his own life,” each one sharply observed and laced with dark humor. In Calypso’s 21 entries, Sedaris, now 61, muses on fad diets, book tours, sleepwalking, his Fitbit app, and life in the English countryside, where he now lives with his longtime partner, Hugh, and where he has become obsessed with picking up roadside litter. But for this outing, the tone is slightly darker and the subject matter knottier, said Alan Cumming in The New York Times. We see “not just the nimble-mouthed elf of his previous work,” but also “a man in his seventh decade expunging his darker secrets and contemplating mortality.”
The most sobering pieces concern family, said Heller McAlpin at NPR.org. Here, as before, reading Sedaris on family can be “like tuning in to a spectacularly well-written sitcom.” But not everything’s funny. He writes that he and his father have spent all of life failing to fully connect, “like a pair of bad trapeze artists, reaching for each other’s hands and missing every time.” He also addresses his deceased mother’s alcoholism and the family’s failure to confront it. And he opens up about his troubled youngest sister, Tiffany, who killed herself in 2013. Sedaris hadn’t spoken to her in eight years, and he confesses that once, when she tried to come backstage after one of his readings, he directed a security guard to keep her out.
“While Calypso features Sedaris’ signature wit, its effect has changed,” said David Canfield in Entertainment Weekly. “At its best, his humor buttresses a sadness here”—a longing to connect and heal before it’s too late, whether the ruptures are within the Sedaris family or within an America seemingly tearing itself apart. “Therein lies Sedaris’ genius—he reflects the culture inwardly. Through his peculiar mind, Sedaris captures biting truths, documenting with journalistic precision his quiet public indignities, and milking them for all their tragicomic worth.”