Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris
Illustrations by Ian Falconer
Little, Brown and Company, 2010
159 pages, hardcover.
If animals were more like us,
if mice kept pets and toads could cuss,
if dogs had wives and chipmunks dated,
sheep sat still and meditated,
then in the forest, field, and dairy
you might find this bestiary,
read by storks, by rats and kitties,
skimmed by cowls with milk-stained titties.
“I found the book to be most droll,”
might quip the bear, the owl, the mole.
Others, though, would be more coarse.
“Bull,” could say the pig and horse.
As to the scribe, they’d quote the hen:
“Trust me, he’s no La Fontaine.”
David Sedaris has a way of making his audience laugh scornfully at his characters long before they realize that they are, in fact, laughing at themselves. He and Oscar Wilde have that in common. Sedaris’ sharp-witted social commentary has been delivered to us in many forms. In Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk his pointed take is in the form of a fable; a modest bestiary with 16 fables, to be more precise. While the venue is new, his critiques are as amusing and blood-letting as ever.
The fables, starring a vast array of animals, average only a few pages long, but the read isn’t necessarily quick. Some beg further thought and/or an immediate re-read. The stories are accompanied by Ian Falconer’s illustrations; which are a startling shift from his Olivia books—however, not in form, you’ll recognize Falconer, but in content. Needless to say, they are charming companions to the text.
The collections starts off strong with The Cat and the Baboon, setting the tone for the rest of the book. “But what would it hurt to pretend otherwise and cross that fine line between licking ass and simply kissing it?” (7) so the first tale contemplates. What makes one person or their behavior better than another, or one more reprehensible than another?
Story after story come repulsive characters with repulsive actions one after the other, and despite their bestial skins, they are easily recognizable. The caricatures and the anthropomorphism flawlessly done. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a study in hypocrisy, religiosity, bigotry, intimate relations, pet lovers, and child-rearing (among other things). Sedaris peels back the veneer to reveal the further coarseness of many societal/individual machinations; thus the coarseness in the telling of the fable becomes all too appropriate. Sedaris isn’t being edgy or cute, he’s serious and he’s biting.
Coarse language prevents this from being a young person’s book; though they might catch many of the implications, a lot of the humor and commentary are adult in flavor. May not want to leave this lying around if you’ve a young reader in the house.