sedaris

Author introduces outrageous book of stories directed toward older audience

By Bo Fisher

In David Sedaris’ droll and twisted world of perverted Macy’s department store Christmas elves, necrophilia and white-trash babysitters, it is only realistic that chipmunks and ducks are racists, mice are alcoholics and arsonists, and ass-kissing baboons work in nail salons grooming snobby cats. In Squirrel seeks chipmunk, his latest collection of short stories, Sedaris showcases humanity in its most revealing, most naked state. Only this time around Sedaris conveys the prejudices, fears and sexual situations that plague the human mind through the voices of animals.

With sixteen fables of animals acting out the daily routines and lives of humans beings, Sedaris triggers every emotion. They will make you laugh; they will make you cry; they will make your insides turn with a feeling of utter disgust.

While a decent majority of the stories end in a heart-breaking manner or a dark irony, a few stories manage to hold the off-beat hilarity of Sedaris with which his readers are most familiar. In the story, “The toad, the turtle and the duck,” three animals wait tediously in line at a complaint department while the service representative, a black snake, hisses irritably behind her desk.

The turtle, who had a confrontation with the black snake earlier, tells the story to the others. According to the turtle, the black snake asked him for two forms, something that was required for all reptiles. When the turtle explained to her that he was not a reptile, but an amphibian, she put it simply:

“Same difference.”

Enraged with the ignorance of the black snake, the three animals continue to bicker. Their friendly conversation, though, soon takes a turn for the worst as each animal begins offering up suggestions how to go about taking gruesome revenge on the black snake.

With each animal seeming to enjoy his or her frustration-driven fantasy, the duck takes things just a little too far. The toad and the turtle are immediately turned off when the duck suggests that they should shove an oversized watermelon covered in feces down the black snake’s throat.

Assuming the duck chose a watermelon for the black snake because he is a racist, the misunderstood duck stomps off in the middle of his interrogation. As he walks away, the turtle and the toad converse on how they “hate those kind of people.”

Accompanied by the vivid illustrations of Ian Falconer, the author of the bestselling children’s book Olivia, Squirrel seeks chipmunk can be mistaken as a book suitable for a child. It is apparent though, that Sedaris and Falconer’s mission was to do just that: throw us off with every turn of the page. The unpredictability of this ironic series of stories does not let readers balance themselves; they are constantly shocked with every other image, every ending a twist of karma.

On one page you will be warmed by the adorable illustration of a chipmunk holding the hand of a squirrel over a candle-lit dinner, tears in the eyes of the endearing rodents who seem to have found true love. A story later you may find yourself repulsed by the savage illustration of a bear, bruised and bloodied and weeping from her hollow eyes. With a muzzled mouth, legs shackled and wearing an orange dress, she dances wearily for an audience brought in by her human owner. The illustration will leave a feeling of pity in the reader stomaches as they soon forget they are crying for a bear.

“Now the bear travels from village to village,” the passage reads beside the illustration. “Her jaws are sunken, her gums swollen with the abscesses left by broken teeth, and between the disfigurement and the muzzle, it’s nearly impossible to catch what she’s saying. Always, though, while tripping and stumbling to the music, she looks out into her audience and tells the story about her mother. Most people laugh and yell for her to lift her skirts, but every so often she’ll spot someone weeping and swear they can understand her every word.”

In 160 pages, David Sedaris has done something very bizarre and it does not have to do with the surreal imagery of sidekick Ian Falconer. The staggering realization that comes shortly after reading Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is Sedaris’ true understanding of mankind at all stages, the pleasing and the unbearable. Sedaris lovers already knew of that ability though, with his books such as Holidays on Ice and When You’re Engulfed in Flames. The difference here is the fact that Sedaris can take such a one-dimensional being, like an animal, and give it the personality and the stresses of a human. He can make us forget that we are reading about ducks, rabbits and storks and leaves the reader to reflect on human nature and how we interact with one another. •