Sedaris puts childhood spin on serious topics with ‘Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk’

Alison Ritchie

Don’t let the talking bears or colorful illustrations fool you – this book is not for kids.

In “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk,” author David Sedaris (“When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” “Me Talk Pretty One Day”) breaks free from his usual narrative nonfiction essays. Instead he has created what he dubs, “A Modest Bestiary.”

The book is comprised of 16 folktales in which animals are personified and thrust into everyday situations. From alcoholic cats to rats with AIDS, Sedaris leaves no taboo subject untouched.

The title story tells of a squirrel and his chipmunk girlfriend. They bond over a mutual hatred of dogs, but their inevitable differences and conflicting family pressures force the couple to end their relationship. Years later, the chipmunk reminisces about what went wrong.

In an interview on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” Sedaris explained that he chose animal characters because it eliminates the need for unnecessary description.

“I like that,” Sedaris said. “Brevity.”

And so he does. His stories here are much shorter and more focused than his past works. With each story averaging about five pages, the book is a quick read. But the genius of his writing stresses quality, not quantity.

Sedaris has an amazing talent at capturing human absurdity in otherwise mundane life situations. What’s more impressive is his ability to do this without a single human character.

The illustrations by Ian Falconer add another level of playfulness to the book. They are all done in black and white with splashes of orange. Many of the pictures have the charm and charisma that Falconer brings to his popular children’s book series, “Olivia,” while others are simply disturbing.

The book always toes the thin line between comedy and obscenity. One story involving singing leeches living in an elephant’s rectum will either make readers bend over laughing or stop reading entirely. Those familiar with Sedaris’s writing will likely choose the former.

Readers will finish the book with a feeling that they are in on a private joke between themselves and the author. Some may wonder why more novelists haven’t tackled the adult children’s book genre. But like Sedaris himself, “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” is a rare breed.

Stars: 4

Contact Alison Ritchie at [email protected].