Monday, January 17, 2011

David Sedaris, "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary"

(Little, Brown and Company, 2010)

Animal fables are generally awesome on account of how grown up and gruesome and darkly humourous they can be. One might even say that animal fables are "fucking metal" at the best of times. Cf also Vikram Seth's "Beastly Tales", and raise your hammers high.

Humourist David Sedaris has recently thrown his contribution to the genre into the ring, and it does not disappoint. I'll be honest that I expected "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" to be more benignly funny than it turned out to be; In retrospect I feel bad about giving it to my betrothed as a Christmas gift, since it's kind of like having given her a case of the shudders. A good many of the stories are downright grotesque and extremely violent.

The reason I wholeheartedly endorse this book is that throughout it Sedaris hilariously skewers modern culture and attitudes, more specifically those of the US. The animals who populate his stories are for all intents and purposes human beings; more specifically they're people adopting attitudes and ways of being that are instantly familiar. For example, the judicious, narrow-minded chicken and the new age, positive thinking lab rat are just two sides of the American prosperity gospel coin: though one echoes Tea Party provincialism and the other yoga-lite young professionalism, both testify to the attitude that anyone suffering misfortune must have deserved it in some way. Both are cruelly shown how much their attitudes are really worth.

Dark humour and irony aside, I should also emphasize that there are moments in the book that are just plain beautiful. The title story is a case in point. Sedaris is a versatile and economical writer who continues to deliver.

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