My family celebrated this past Christmas at my Uncle Ed’s home in north central Iowa. For many years, my uncle worked at a national wildlife refuge and as children, we were delighted by his ability to make squirrel calls. Squirrels and my Uncle Ed are completely linked in my mind.
My uncle gave me Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk as a gift. Sedaris departs from the memoir-writing I know him by to give his readers a collection of dark little fables. My uncle cautioned me that despite the adorable cover, the anthropomorphic animals within the pages often exhibited quite crude behavior. However, the stories have a way of sticking in your head, my uncle continued, particularly meaning the ending of “The Mouse and the Snake.”
With this sort of introduction, not only I, but the whole family was now very curious about this petite book. My brother-in-law, David, had heard the titular story read by Sedaris on NPR and proceeded to read it aloud while we were finishing up one of Uncle Ed’s delicious meals. When I laid down the book between my own readings of it, I saw at least one other person pick it up for themselves.
In many of the stories, the worst of human behavior is satirized by creatures as diverse as barnyard fowl, bears, storks and dogs. Although I didn’t care much for Flannery O’Connor when I read her in college, I’m reminded about what she said about her writing: she magnifies evil in her stories to make its grotesque nature more apparent to desensitized readers. I think Sedaris does something similar with Squirrel Meets Chipmunk, with a biting humor that keeps the satire lively and engaging despite its dark outlook.
Sedaris keeps the three most hopeful fables toward the end, which was a wise move. The singing leeches in the last story were particularly hilarious.
I’ve been told that Sedaris is more entertaining to listen to than to read. There seems to be a quality in these stories that lend them to be read aloud as well. After reading “The Vigilant Rabbit,” my favorite story in the collection, I promptly started reading it to my younger sister. Before I knew it, others had drifted closer from other parts of the house to listen. When I reached the priceless, perfect last line, the rest of the house burst into laughter and we repeated it to each other with glee.
Bermudiaonion’s Weblog – “. . . I felt like Sedaris tried just a little too hard with a few of the stories. Either way, the book is still a fun way to spend a few hours.”
The Boston Bibliophile – “[Sedaris’] 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.”