David Sedaris’ newest book is a wee bit strange. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary is a small collection of short stories in which all of the characters are nameless anthropomorphic animals. That sounds simple enough, but most of these stories are kind of twisted and hilarious. When I read them, I could not help but hear his voice in my head, as I first heard about the book on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. This book just reinforces my conviction that Sedaris (along with his sister Amy) is in my top five dream dinner companions – beyond the obvious booze and hilarity, there would be no risk of offending anyone with the strange and inappropriate, as how could one offend a man who writes about singing leeches living in a hippopotamus anus?
Sedaris was inspired by an audiobook of South African stories about anthropomorphic animals, and decided to write some of his own over a period of years. They are generally very short, with a minimum of description (strategic on the author’s part) but with easily understood characters and a complete narrative. They are funny little modern morality tales, with some stories being better than others, and all of them with at least a touch of cruelty to them. I don’t recall most of Sedaris’ other books having quite so much of that, but maybe it is because these stories are just so short, a sharp distillation of his view of society and its absurdities.
The book is illustrated by Ian Falconer, best known to most of the world as the author and illustrator of the Olivia the Pig stories. The illustrations are marvelous, done in his characteristic black and white with red highlights. The animals are expressive and charming, but found it a bit disconcerting to look at a drawing of an owl listening intently to an Olivia-esque hippopotamus anus – I read a lot of children’s books, and that image is going to be hard to get out of my head while reading Olivia and the Missing Toy to my kids.
This book was fun to read, and was perfect for reading over my short lunch break, but I am not sure it is one I would be inclined to reread regularly, as I do with other Sedaris books.