Tuesday, December 7, 2010
REVIEW: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris
I first experienced David Sedaris's new collection of short stories, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, via audiobook, which is somewhat unusual for me. I listen to very few audiobooks but I was offered this one by a friend and figured, why not. Later I read the print version and while I enjoyed both, I think this is one book that was practically made to be read aloud.
If you know Sedaris's work, you know the subtitle, A Modest Bestiary, is ironic at best. Sedaris writes both fiction and nonfiction but this collection is purely fictional, animal tales of his own creation about cats, dogs, birds, insects and other creatures great and small, but for the most part, not really wise or wonderful. Sedaris's animal world, like the world he portrays in his other fiction, is cruel, heartless and often undignified. A hippo has a problem with his rectal residents; a crow works to hoodwink a lamb out of something precious; a narcissistic bear learns what it really means to be pitied, and so forth.
I enjoyed this book very much but I think you either have to be a die-hard Sedaris fan or have a really twisted sense of humor to enjoy it, too. It's definitely not going to be for everybody; there's not a lot of lightness or sweetness to Sedaris's animal tales- they're raunchy, ribald and heartless, just like his other fiction. In the past I've always preferred his memoir to his fiction for this very reason; his fiction has always struck me as formulaic and filled with cruel characters lacking self-awareness who behave with utter selfishness towards their fellow human beings. And this book is no different but when these behaviors are placed among animals they lose much of their sting. Nature is cruel; animals are heartless; they do lack empathy in a way that would be psychotic if we were talking about humans. So it doesn't bother me that that's the way Sedaris portrays them.
And like I said, this was made to be an audiobook. Narrators like Elaine Stritch and Sedaris himself make the biting dialogue and occasionally shocking plot twists come to dark, sinister, hilarious life. Reading these stories on the page paled to hearing them read aloud. If you're not an audiobook person but you're interested in this collection I would really urge you to at least check the audio version out of the library and give it a try alongside the print version, which I would urge you to buy in any case. (The audio version also has a bonus story unavailable in the print version and downloads of Ian Falconer's equally twisted illustrations.) At least, that is, if you have that aforementioned twisted sense of humor.
I'm a Powell's partner and receive a small commission on sales.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive either the print or audio version of this book from anyone for review.