David Sedaris, the humorous author best known for his personal essays describing, in detail, growing up in a large, dysfunctional…normal American family, has stretched his genre wings with his newest collection of tales: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. This collection features 16 lusty tales about dogs denying infidelity, cats dealing with alcoholism, cut-throat journalist parrots, and owls seeking knowledge…and not in a library. It’s a humorous mix of fairy tale romance (of the adult nature) and the pointing out of social faux pas (which has been a staple of Sedaris’ work since his earlier essays featured in Naked).
Paired with the adorable, yet grotesque, spot illustrations of Ian Falconer (the dude who illustrated the Olivia children’s book) this is assured to be one of the funniest funny animal books to be released in 2010.
If you are familiar with Sedaris’ work, be warned, as this collection is decidedly different from his previous collections. The style and tone are similar, but this collection lacks the soul-searching-self-deprecating-introspection that made his personal essays such an all consuming experience and pleasure to read. These 16 tales aren’t as deep as Sedaris’ previous works, but what they lack in depth they make up for in fairy tale-esque wonderment that one rarely captures when writing diligently from life and personal experiences. A light-heartedness, an air of fun and pleasure, a somewhat magical quality surrounds these tales, which are at their core, fairy tales for the modern adult with a slightly sarcastic view on life.
Sedaris utilizes his caustic wit to bring to life some four legged creatures who are put in situations that are laugh-out-loud funny. The first tale, The Cat and The Baboon, is a quick five page story that sets the tone for the entire collection. The Cat, getting ready for a party that evening, is being groomed by the Baboon, who is clumsily negotiating beauty shop small talk, quickly jumping from one topic to another to find a subject that pleases the Cat, a paying customer, as we can imagine our own human groomers might speak to us.
Many issues are brought to light through the lens of furry woodland creatures: living in a foreign region, rescue pets, loss of a loved one, racism, infidelity, to name a few. In the tradition of classic fairy tales, those who do wrong are cruelly, oh so cruelly, punished. And when they do get their comeuppance, we can laugh with childlike glee because, as in classic fairy tales, they usually had it coming.
Falconer’s illustrations bring much to Sedaris’ writing in the same manner that Quentin Blake’s drawings brought Roald Dahl’s characters to life. Reading about a squirrel, who might or might not get laid that evening, is all well and good; but reading about that same squirrel with the picture above in mind, the reader is much more inclined to root for the squirrel getting some sort of sexual satisfaction. Each main character, sometimes multiple characters, is deftly drawn and instantly identifiable. Falconer’s illustrations bring forth a sympathy or loathsomeness (depending on the character), instantaneously, in a way that only pictures can. Together, Sedaris’ words and Falconer’s pictures create a quirky little world to escape to for an afternoon.
This book is a great read. I don’t think I can say anymore to convince you, so I’ll leave you off with this illustration of the final story, The Grieving Owl. If this doesn’t make you want to pick up Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, I don’t know what will.