By Joe Miller
Humorist David Sedaris’s new collection of essays, “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary,” may look like a children’s book about animals, but don’t judge this book by its cover.
Sedaris takes the fabled lives of animals and turns them in a direction Aesop never dared to go throughout the book’s 16 stories. The secret lives of lab rats and an Irish Setter’s hidden resentments towards his insecure mutt-bred wife are just two of the dark, yet comedic themes Sedaris works with.
Sedaris thrusts his animal characters into a deeper human context, giving readers an objective glimpse at the problems we face everyday, but through the eyes of these anthropomorphized and hilarious animal characters.
Sedaris, age 53, is one of the bigger names in contemporary American literature right now. His last five essay collections have all become New York Times Best Sellers.
This newest addition to Sedaris’s impressive resume was released on Sept. 28. He has already read excerpts of the book multiple times on National Public Radio and for the Washington Post.
In “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary,” Sedaris illustrates his complicated love/hate relationship with people by personifying animal characters in a way that seems uncomfortably familiar.
The story “Hello Kitty” revolves around a cynical feline who is forced to attend mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in prison.
In “The Motherless Bear,” readers meet a self-pitying bear who lost her mother to a group of hunters as a cub, but grows up to find that sympathy only lasts until you meet someone with bigger problems than your own.
“The Sick Rat and The Healthy Rat,” is a narrative about two lab rats with opposing worldviews. One has been a malnourished test subject for years while the other is an optimist who preaches that a positive attitude is the remedy to all ailments. Unfortunately, this view is quickly shattered by approaching needles.
Although all of the characters are animals, there is no argument that the root of all of their issues is inherently human and universally relatable.
Ian Falconer, the writer and illustrator of the “Olivia” series, collaborated with Sedaris and illustrated “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.” The artwork fits the overall theme of the writing and is funny and almost childlike, but still manages to keep up with Sedaris’s dark undertones.
Critics have said that “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary” banishes itself into a literary realm stuck between children’s literature and adult contemporary fiction. They argue that the book is almost too vulgar and pessimistic to be appreciated by any self-respecting reader, but readers looking for a grim collection of stories who need a break from typical human protagonists, should look no further than “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.”
The stories are dark, depressing, and comically ironic, but despite the characters’ paws, tails, fur coats and feathers, they are all familiar and recognizably human.