Dark, twisted and strange, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary is the newest offering by humorist and author David Sedaris. A collection of short stories in which all the characters are animals that personify human failings, it reads like Aesop meets Quentin Tarantino.
Some readers may love this book, but be warned, if you are a Sedaris fan, this is not your typical Sedaris book (if there is such a thing). While his other writings, like Naked and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, often focus on his funny, off-beat personal and family situations, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is vulgar, violent, bizarre, and at times even stomach-turning.
This small compilation of 16 stories begins with “The Cat and the Baboon,” which centers on a gossiping baboon beautician and her cat client who needs a good grooming. What is the point of this opening piece? In Sedaris’s own words (albeit, toned-down for this blog), it’s to determine the “fine line between licking” – ahem, one’s posterior – “and simply kissing it.”
While some stories do seem to have a moral or a point, other tales just seem cruel and deranged. In the disturbing story, “The Crow and the Lamb,” a crow begins a conversation with a naïve and stupid mother sheep. While the sheep is busy talking, the crow suddenly swoops down and plucks out both eyes of the small innocent lamb lying beside her. End of story.
Now, if the overall point of the book is to spotlight bad human behavior through the actions of animals, Sedaris is successful. This is proven in “The Vigilant Rabbit,” a tale in which a group of forest animals decide to build a fence to keep out “unwanted” creatures. A prejudiced rabbit is then assigned to stand guard at the fence gate. He does so with a huge stick and beats any animals to death if he doesn’t approve of him or if they question his authority.
David Sedaris actually created the “vigilant rabbit,” character after his encounter with an airport security guard. The guard was rude and wouldn’t allow him to proceed through security because he was wearing a vest. He was refused an explanation about the “dangers of wearing vests on airplanes,” hassled for being different and forced to remove the clothing item. From there, Sedaris let his imagination take over. He turned the judgmental, narrow-minded guard into the “vigilant rabbit,” and created a violent story about abuse of power.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk also contains numerous illustrations by Ian Falconer, best known for his New Yorker covers and Olivia children’s books. But again, the reader should beware. Many of the drawings are creepy and strange, depicting oddities like a skinned mink who sold his fur to pay for his drug habit.
So by now, you may be asking, “Why read this book?” Rest assured, if you do pick up this latest Sedaris offering, there are a few good (but still twisted) stories that can be plucked out of its pages, including “The Motherless Bear” and “The Sick Rat and The Healthy Rat.”
In “The Motherless Bear,” a defenseless cub seeks sympathy and attention from everyone after her stepmother dies. At first the animals, coddle the narcissistic bear, but when she continues wanting this sympathy even after she grows up, she is ignored. Eventually the bear is captured, mistreated and put into a cruel sideshow, giving her all the attention she could ever want.
“The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat” takes place in a testing lab. A healthy rat is placed into the cage of a sick rat. The healthy rat tells the sick rat that she is ill because of her own negative thoughts. The healthy rat assures the sick rat she will never be like her because she has a positive attitude and outlook on life. And this proves to be true until a lab worker injects the healthy rat with a horrible disease.
David Sedaris can be hysterically funny, unique, and absolutely worth reading, but if you are new to Sedaris, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is not the book to read first because it is Sedaris “to the extreme.” His offbeat, edgy, and odd humor comes through better in his 2001 book, Me Talk Pretty One Day.
And if you are a Sedaris fan who thinks Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk goes a little too far off the mark, never fear. Sedaris always seems to be brimming with new, witty, and “uniquely Sedaris” material. It should only be a matter of time before he surprises us with something else entirely crazy, bizarre, and hilarious.
About the Author
Amy Morris is a technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family.