Saturday, October 9, 2010


David Sedaris has just published his latest book of essays, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, and it's a little bit of a departure from his previous works.  Instead of funny, questionably autobiographical recollections of his childhood with his bizarre family, this new book is a collection of fables.  Like Aesop, Sedaris uses animal protagonists to reflect on human vices and virtues.  All resemblance to Aesop's fables pretty much ends there.
For one thing, Sedaris' vices are a little more low-key but a lot more widespread:  pomposity, self-absorption, smugness, bigotry and ignorance.  These are the kinds of behaviors that are becoming more socially tolerated and therefore more proudly displayed.  This pervasiveness makes these traits harder to ignore.
The other difference between Sedaris and Aesop is the characters themselves.  They're foul-mouthed, coolly violent, devoid of empathy, and obnoxious.  They are made even creepier by the wonderful illustrations of Ian Falconer (creator of the clever Olivia books, featuring a young pig with a grandiose imagination - like Eloise of the animal set).  His pictures of the flayed mink, the dying lab rat, and the abused bear aren't necessarily graphic, but they get the point across.
I hope I haven't turned any Sedaris fans off this book, but it's not going to provoke tears of laughter.  The stories are witty and well-written, with a macabre sense of humor.  The lessons aren't that subtle, yet here's enough truth in them that you can automatically transform the animal characters into people you've seen on T.V., overheard in airports, or know from the gym.  Who knows, you might even recognize yourself.....

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