Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chipmunk Seeks Squirrel by David Sedaris

At first, I did not really like this collection of fables, but, trapped on a long flight to California, and with nothing else to read easily at hand, I decided to slog through to the end. Actually, I began to enjoy the tails [pun intended], and the last were the best of all.

I really look forward to Sedaris’ pieces on NPR, but I rarely enjoy his writing. It always seemed smarmy to me, and I had a hard time relating to his tone. However, I heard him interviewed on Terry Gross’ show, Fresh Air and felt this latest book might be interesting. I also saw him interviewed on Jon Stewart, so I decided to give him another try.

This book had its moments, but it will not make me a fan of his writings. As I began this review, I tried to figure out some explanation for this dichotomy, but I came up empty. As I said, the last story was really good, and made me close the book with a chuckle. “The Grieving Owl” tells the story of an owl whose mate is three days dead. he obsesses over learning things, and jilts a young female his mother tried to match him with. Two brothers and his mother stalk the grieving owl, and sometimes steal his victims of hunting, because he asks them to teach him something in exchange for their freedom.

Now, a beast fable is a story with animals who have human characteristics – including the power of speech – which contains some moral lesson. Chaucer’s “The Nun’s Priest Tale” is a classic of the genre, right up there with Aesop and his foxes, hares, and tortoises. The glitch is in the moral. For the life of me, I cannot figure out this as any more than a humorous, slightly bawdy story. Characteristics shared by most of the tales.

Owl sees a rat and debates the one rule of owldom – never engage with your food. Kill it immediately and eat. But he catches a rat, and begins a conversation:

“So this rat, it was as if he were following a script. ‘I just swallowed some poison,’ he claimed. ‘Eat me, and you’re destined to die as well.’

It’s embarrassing to hear such lies, to think they think you’re dumb enough to believe them.

‘Oh please,” I said.

The rat moved to plan B. ‘I have children, babies, and their counting on me to feed them

I said to the guy, ‘Listen. There’s not a male rat in the history of the world who’s given his child so much as a cigarette butt, and don’t try to tell me otherwise. In fact,’ I went on, ‘from what I hear, any baby of yours has a better chance of being eaten by you than fed by you.’”

Grim humor, yes, but pretty amusing. The brother of Owl, steals the rat when he tells Owl something interesting, and then the brother eats the poor fellow. Oh, well. If I ever figure out what the moral is, I’ll let you know. 3 stars

--Chiron, 1/7/11

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