Review: ‘Happy-Go-Lucky,’ an amusing look at life’s ironies

This cover image released by Little, Brown and Company shows "Happy-Go-Lucky" by David Sedaris. (Little, Brown and Company via AP)

This cover image released by Little, Brown and Company shows “Happy-Go-Lucky” by David Sedaris. (Little, Brown and Company via AP)

“Happy-Go-Lucky,” by David Sedaris (Little, Brown and Company)

Almost everyone has a dysfunctional family, but few expose their relatives’ funny, embarrassing and even disturbing quirks quite like writer and humorist David Sedaris.

Anyone who has read Sedaris’ essays in The New Yorker magazine knows about his large Greek American family and his boyfriend, Hugh, who form an awkward but loving ensemble cast. In one unforgettable piece nearly a decade ago, Sedaris even wrote of his sister Tiffany’s suicide, “Now We are Five.”

In “Happy-Go-Lucky,” a new collection of poignant, honest and funny essays, Sedaris is bothered when he notices the crepe-like skin between one sister’s chest and neck, lamenting that his once beautiful sisters are aging.

“It just seems cruel,” he says.

Writing about his teen years, Sedaris is simultaneously amusing and brutal while unflinchingly exposing the ironies of his family and life in general.

In one anecdote, his father, Lou, yanks a sister naked out of the shower. In another, Lou subjects the young David to a humiliating examination when he claimed to be sick.

Elsewhere in this latest collection of essays, Sedaris shines a harsh light on his experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, from grocery shopping early on to his return to nonstop travel for work, walking through empty airports, past shuttered businesses, closed lounges, painting a somewhat troubling picture of life in America today.

In the airport at Charlotte, North Carolina, he encounters what initially appears to be a fig that turns out to be a turd, most likely a dog’s.

“What has this world come to?” he wonders.

Sedaris also reflects on the little things from pre-pandemic life that he never appreciated before: being handed a restaurant menu, reading banal text messages over a stranger’s shoulder.

“The America I saw while on tour in the fall of 2021 was weary and battle-scarred,” Sedaris wrote in one piece in the book, an essay entitled “Lucky-Go-Happy,” published in The New Yorker this spring. “Its sidewalks were cracked, its mailboxes bashed in.”

Going up to a store or a restaurant he’d remembered from an earlier trip, he’d find it “boarded up, or maybe burned out, the plywood that blocked the doors covered with graffiti.”

But the most haunting image was one of a person Sedaris never met face to face.

It was a young woman he imagined was the owner of items he spotted in a gutter near a baggage carousel at one airport: among them two pairs of panties, three AA batteries and a brush with long strawberry-blond strands of hair.

“I thought of her for months to come,” he wrote. “wondering, as I moved from place to place in this divided, beat-up country of ours, where she was and she what she imagined had become of her panties.”