Wednesday, September 16, 2020


David Sedaris has always reminded me of a latter day Mark Twain, a century on and wholly unrestrained but with the same talent for comedic rhythm and turn of phrase that ranges between consistently tongue-in-cheek witty to laugh-out-loud hilarious, and yet reserving a dark cloud in one fist which might be sprung on the reader at any moment. 

I've just finished his 2018 book of essays, Calypso. These are largely about Sedaris' oddball family members (from the point of view of the chief oddball, Sedaris, of course) and very often about aging as the author finds himself reaching 60. I can identify.

As with Twain, Sedaris is brutally honest, especially about himself, and plays at being completely oblivious to socially acceptable norms. Of course, he is not really oblivious. He is merely cantankerous. 

In the title essay, Calypso, Sedaris writes of going to a doctor's office after discovering a lipoma beneath his skin. 

 He (the doctor) took an ultrasound of my fatty tumor and said that he could remove it the following week.

“Terrific,” I said, “because I want to feed it to a snapping turtle.”
“Excuse me?”
“Not just any snapping turtle,” I continued, as if that was what had given him pause. “There’s one very specific turtle I’m planning to feed it to. He has a big growth on his head.”
“It’s against federal law for me to give you anything I’ve removed from your body,” the surgeon said.
“But it’s my tumor,” I reminded him. “I made it.”
“It’s against federal law for me to give you anything I’ve removed from your body.”
“Well, could I maybe have half to feed to this turtle?”
“It’s against federal law for me to give you anything I’ve removed from your body.”
I left with my tumor intact, thinking, Honestly. What has this country come to?

Resisting social correctness at every turn, or embracing it only where it suits him, Sedaris reminds us of our own recurrent hypocrisies, our inherent human weaknesses, and he succeeds at this by sparing himself not in the least. Even where his own homosexuality is concerned, Sedaris stubbornly resists the acceptable modern narrative--the way we are "supposed to think." It's a box in which to be contained--a different box than the box that used to be the norm, but still a box, and neither he nor we like being in a box.

In short, we are allowed, and encouraged, to laugh; and laughter, especially in these dark times, is a welcome treat, as is Calypso, which I recommend with all my heart.

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