Animals, they’re just like us! Petty and foolish, prone to ugly prejudices, poor life choices, and generally calamitous idiocy. Such is the crow-black thesis of David Sedaris’ seventh collection, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, in which the humorist, long a droll chronicler of human foibles, turns his absurdist wit and opposable thumbs to fables of the feathered and four-legged.
The entries in his lurid bestiary may be brief — few exceed a dozen or so large-font pages apiece, including Ian Falconer’s witty illustrations — but they are clearly not meant for children. (Unless, perhaps, your child is a tiny, sadistic Quentin Tarantino in training.) Gooey viscera aside, Squirrel‘s anthropomorphized critters are adult in the most banal ways: They visit the hairdresser and go out for Chinese food, take their coffee black and attend 12-step meetings. In ”The Faithful Setter,” an Irish hound endures his mutt wife’s ill-bred insecurities; in ”The Parenting Storks,” a monstrously self-absorbed bird makes Joan Crawford look like a model of sweet maternity. These louse-y, lousy creatures invariably meet bad ends, in ways far more graphic and grisly than anything Edward Gorey ever imagined for his young charges. Only the final story, ”The Grieving Owl,” offers a hint of a happily-ever-after — and even that involves (no joke) a rabble of singing, anus-dwelling leeches.
Some Sedaris fans felt he had begun to exhaust his store of Homo sapiens-based anecdotes in 2008’s When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and Squirrel does seem to free him creatively, while still indulging his singularly skewed worldview. (Who else would invent a strung-out mink selling his own pelt for booze?) And for the strong- stomached, these tales are toxic little treats, fun-size Snickers bars with a nougaty strychnine center. But at $21.99 for a scant 159 illustrated pages, Squirrel doesn’t quite make a meal. B