First and foremost, I am a rabid David Sedaris fan. I was first introduced to the humorous essayist just over a year ago with his 2008 book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Ever since, I have read almost every one of his books within one sitting; I just cannot put them down. I expected no less from his most recent work, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, a collection of short stories that highlights questions of morality and societal ills as enacted by animals. While no less comical than his previous stories, this brief book provides the present-day reader with opportunities to laugh and learn from the assorted creatures who share our trials and tribulations in raising children, alienation from friends, adultery, and racism.
David Sedaris is many things: writer, humorist, and radio contributor for National Public Radio, often working with Ira Glass’ “This American Life.” (Perhaps not well known is the fact that Glass discovered Sedaris in a Chicago club, reading stories from his diary.) Known for his short stories which are, in most cases, autobiographical (yet exaggerated) and self-defacing, Sedaris has enjoyed several, national bestsellers with Naked, Holidays On Ice (featuring his acclaimed essay “SantaLand Diaries,” which was first introduced on NPR), Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames. The stories feature accounts of his family’s inner-workings, his numerous odd jobs across the county, and his various follies into drugs that are downright hysterical. The events are sometimes so far-fetched that part of the fun is wondering where the truth leaves off and the exaggeration begins. Despite the repetition of some stories in multiple books, the occurrence only allows the reader to re-experience the humor that may have been forgotten.
With Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, Sedaris succeeded in creating modern and comical fables, casting barnyard and forest animals in everyday, adult situations. Separated into sixteen chapters, each totaling no more than 6-8 pages, the fables include a self-righteous chicken who “avoids” the farmer’s wrath by passing judgment on the unlucky, a motherless bear seeking pity one time too many, and the title “mixed relationship” between a squirrel and a chipmunk. In every case, the pairing of the animals with the adult-themed circumstances is witty and laughable, allowing Sedaris’ usually dark humor to showcase itself once again. The element that makes this collection more impressive than his previous work is his ability to provide a moral to each animal’s endeavors, whether positive or negative. (The self-righteous chicken, despite living what she believed to be a pious life, met her end just the same as others on which she had laid judgment. The motherless bear sought pity from other sleuths after exhausting the pity of her friends, only to be caught by humans who forced her into slavery. The chipmunk, after falling to the pressure of her family to end her relationship with the squirrel, realized her error after it was too late.)
For those busy with the holiday season, this collection provides a wonderful break from the chaos and concern that can be maddening at this time of year. As each story remains unto itself, the stories of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk can be read in several chunks or in one sitting. While readers both familiar and unfamiliar with David Sedaris can certainly find enjoyment in this collection, I would not site this book as indicative of his usual style; however, you will certainly get more than a few chuckles from this charmingly-morbid look at our society’s problems through the eyes of animals.