Review: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

In some of his recent essays, David Sedaris has talked about how writing about his family has been a two-edged sword.  On the one hand, the stories are delightful and diverting; on the other hand, his family doesn’t seem to enjoy the notoriety.  I suspect that this pressure is part of the reason that his latest, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, is a collection of fables with illustrations by Ian Falconer.

A fable is a difficult thing to construct well.  The whole thing is short, the characters need to be vivid but believable, and there needs to be some kind of moral at the end, implied or stated.  Sedaris’s fables are enlightening and wicked; it makes me wonder if Aesop was as satirical to his readers.

Casting his characters as animals distances them from specific people and if this were a different author I would be tempted to say that it lets him unleash his darker views of people.  Sedaris has never shied away from depicting people as they are, but these iconic animals are some of his best creations.  No matter how much he needs a particular character to have a certain trait for his fable, they’re never forced or overcalculated.

In addition to his keen eye for the follies of people and society, Sedaris is an excellent writer structurally.  I have always been impressed with how his compositions flow in such a way that his point often comes dramatically clear only as the essay finishes.  That composition is on display here, as well as the skill with the telling detail that makes the cumulative effects more powerful.

And more than one of Falconer’s illustrations enhanced their story uniquely.

All that said, a fable’s a fable, and there are only so many one can read in a row.  I found Squirrel to be just the right length.  I suspect that another fable book is not forthcoming, and I’m looking forward to what Sedaris does next.

Strongly recommended.

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