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Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris: Essays exploring preoccupations of our time

Author’s brilliance lies in his ability to both disrupt and comfort. We are lucky to have him

Author: David Sedaris
ISBN-13: 978-1408714119
Publisher: Little Brown
Guideline Price: £18.99

David Sedaris shoots guns, doesn’t he? Or rather, in the last few years, he has learned to. But as he writes in Active Shooter, it is “a niche market I knew nothing about… like pricing penguins or milking equipment”.

Curiosity has always been his driver, and he explores things with a deadpan compassion, whether writing about his dad in Father Time - “his eyebrows were thin and barely perceptible… it was the same with his lashes. I guess that, like the hairs on his arms and legs, they just got tired of holding on” - or in Bruised, finding himself on the outside of language while living in Normandy: “it was so humbling, being robbed of my personality like that”.

When he starts to memorise French nouns to get by, he finds his own choices curious, “why master bruise before say, umbrella?”. He evolves this into a masterful exploration of what it is to be “bruised”. When the neighbour’s grandson starts acting out, it mirrors Sedaris’ own early life, where burgeoning sexuality crashed into vulnerability, confusion and fear.

Memory after memory is evoked, like a droll Proust, but Sedaris is also looking to the future. Back on the road in Lucky-Go-Happy he checks in on the spirit of his country, “Dear God, I thought. America, as I knew it, is finished.” He considers many of the preoccupations of our time in wonky affecting ways, climate change in Hurricane Season, domestic life in Pearls, and western privilege in To Serbia with Love.


He excels when addressing the incomprehensible. Much of this surrounds his father, a problematic figure, who is diminished and lionised in Unbuttoned, “asleep, he looked long dead, like something unearthed from a pharaoh’s tomb”. He follows this complicated memorialising in Lady Marmalade, while writing about his late sister Tiffany, and his sibling’s relationship with their father’s often inappropriate behaviour: “It wasn’t that he violated our bodies. He just wanted us to know that they were as much his as ours.”

Gloriously politically incorrect at times, he embraces ambiguity. It is a leavening sensibility that seems disturbingly retro in these divided times, and his brilliance lies in his ability to disrupt and comfort. We are lucky to have him.

Siobhán Kane

Siobhán Kane is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture