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Happy-go-lucky

by David Sedaris

Book list Although a best-of collection and the second volume of his diaries have appeared, it has been four years since Sedaris’ last collection of new essays, Calypso (2018)—an eternity to fans who rely on his sardonic observations to help them discern what their own eyes fail to register. Much happened in the interim as the world locked down with COVID-19, communities erupted in protests over police murders, and people recoiled from political machinations. What occurs on the world stage is magnified thousands-fold on the local level, and luckily for readers, Sedaris’ neighborhoods range from coastal North Carolina to Normandy, Manhattan’s Upper East Side to West Sussex, England, and are populated by his comforting cast of recurring characters: his husband, father, and siblings. Death comes for the Sedaris family once more, this time for his 98-year-old father, Lou. In the title essay, the clan is gathered in the nursing home, contemplating the finality of the visit yet “laughing so loudly” they fear they’ll be asked to leave. “Because really, isn’t that what we’re known for?” Yes, they are, thankfully, and though his tone is more poignant than pointed, the essential Sedaris humor reassuringly endures. Amid the barbed quips, there is genuine sorrow, an empathy born of arduous experience and persistent aspiration.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Sedaris fans will fill reserve lists for a fresh infusion of his unique candor and comedy.

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Kirkus Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval. In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off. A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Unrest, plague, and death give rise to mordant comedy in this intimate collection from Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day). The author covers rude service workers, difficulties in his own life, and goings-on in “Eastern Europe countries no one wants to immigrate to” where “hugs guard parked BMWs and stray dogs roam the streets.... There are cats too, grease-covered from skulking beneath cars, one eye or sometimes both glued shut with pus.” He faces mask sticklers in a Target checkout line, sees a drunken mask scofflaw on a flight, and communes with BLM protesters while deploring their “lazy” slogans. Much of the book has a dark edge, as it recounts the decline and death of his 98-year-old father; Sedaris voices still rankling resentments—”s long as my father had power, he used it to hurt me”—and recounts his sister’s accusations that their father sexually abused her. As always, Sedaris has a knack for finding where the blithe and innocent intersect with the tawdry and lurid: “His voice had an old-fashioned quality... like a boy’s in a radio serial,” he writes of a Nintendo-obsessed 11-year-old; “ ‘Gee willikers!’ you could imagine him saying, if that were the name of a video game in which things blew up and women got shot in the back of the head.” Sedaris’s tragicomedy is gloomier than usual, but it’s as rich and rewarding as ever. (May)

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