Friday, January 03, 2014

Fiction Review: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

In an effort to try to read last year’s Christmas gifts before Christmas came around again, I recently read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris, a slim novel of unique short stories that my husband gave me last year. I wish I hadn’t waited so long! This book is completely different than anything else Sedaris has written but still features his trademark sense of humor and absurdity.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a series of brief stories about animals behaving like people, and Sedaris uses this vehicle to satirize various human behaviors in a way that is incredibly clever and often hilariously funny. For instance, the title story is about a squirrel and a chipmunk who are dating, much to the dismay of their families and friends. The first weeks of their courtship are exciting and passionate, until they realize they have little in common:

“The squirrel and the chipmunk had been dating for two weeks when they ran out of things to talk about. Acorns, parasites, the inevitable approach of autumn: these subjects had been covered within their first hour; and so breathlessly, their faces flushed. Twice they had held long conversations about dogs, each declaring an across-the-board hatred of them and speculating on what life might be like were someone to put a bowl of food in front of them twice a day. “They’re spoiled rotten is what it comes down to,” the chipmunk had said, and the squirrel had placed his paw over hers, saying, “That’s it exactly. Finally, someone who really gets it.”

Sedaris builds these stories so cleverly, often combining a well-known animal characteristic with some nugget of human behavior with hysterical results. I laughed out loud in the doctor’s office (much to my son’s embarrassment) while reading the story about the mother stork who doesn’t know what to say when her child asks where babies come from! Then there is the Irish Setter, known for loyalty, who stays with his wife even though she is a mixed breed with a foul mouth who has cheated on him with the English bulldog across the street.  Adding to the fun are illustrations by Ian Falconer whom I recognized as the illustrator of the acclaimed Olivia picture books the moment I saw his drawing of a pot-bellied pig. I just loved the satire and ingenuity of these stories!

Another story features a baboon hairdresser who is gossiping while grooming a cat, the migrating songbirds who brag (and complain) endlessly to their friends about their annual trip down to Central America, and the lab rat who believes all illness is caused by a negative attitude, right up until she is injected with AIDS (as someone who lives with a chronic illness, I especially liked that one). I kept imagining Sedaris encountering various boorish behaviors among the human race and translating them to the animal kingdom in these stories. I thoroughly enjoyed this slim volume of very clever and very funny stories that are wholly unique. Lots of fun.

168 pages, Back Bay Books


  1. I thought this book was a riot too!

  2. I laughed a lot, too, but the humor was a little too dark for me in a couple of the stories. (So that I felt bad for laughing, I guess.) I think I'm too soft-hearted for some of David Sedaris' humor, although I listen to all of his books on audio and find them hilarious, for the most part!

  3. I felt the same, Laurie - and I should have mentioned in my review that a few of the stories are pretty dark. Like the one about the sheep and the crow (was it a crow?). I was laughing along at the meditation stuff until I got the the illustration and the ending - ew!