It’s always interesting to see how a writer’s work changes after their parents are gone. Some loosen up dramatically. For many, the gloves come off, relieved to finally have the last word.
David Sedaris’ situation is different, because he’s been writing about his father for years. “As long as my father had power, he used it to hurt me,” he writes in in his latest collection, Happy-Go-Lucky. “In my youth I just took it. Then I started to write about it, to actually profit from it. The money was a comfort, but better yet was the roar of live audiences as they laughed at how petty and arrogant he was.”
Unlike his tender essays about his mother, who died in 1991, Sedaris’ bitter-edged portraits of Lou Sedaris, an ultra-conservative crank who undercut him at every turn, are not flattering. He may have milked the material for laughs, but these stories were not like the inherently playful, fond ribbing he has given his sisters Amy, Lisa, and Gretchen, or his longtime partner, Hugh.
Sedaris has long been frank about his lifelong disconnect with his father, but he has reflected more openly — and movingly — about it since his father reached his nineties. In Calypso (2018), he memorably likened the two of them to “a pair of bad trapeze artists, reaching for each other’s hands and missing every time.”