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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon September 28, 2010
What we have here is a unique and absurd collection of what appear (on the surface) to be anthropomorphic animal characters- squirrels, storks, cats, toads, turtles, and of course a duck. Each story starts out benign and normal enough, more or less like an Aesop's Fable, but then gets more preposterous as far as animals go and then more and more relevant to life as we live it today.

If you have ever waited in a line at the DMV or other government office, you will see yourself as perhaps one of this trio- the Toad, the Turtle, or the Duck. Those who are a "Friend of Bill" might see something familiar in a story about a cat with some issues.

In other words, each story holds up a mirror to our everyday life- but this being David Sedaris it's more a Wonderland or Funhouse mirror. Perhaps the closest I could come would be Aesop's fables written by a very modern Lewis Carrol.

I found one great quote I may have to use myself "It's not that they are stupid. It's that they are actively against knowledge". How true, and how sad.

Sedaris says to not expect a Moral for each Fable, but if you read them carefully, you should find some insight. "His morals are not spoon-fed cautionary tales of cause-and-effect but rather seemingly matter-of-fact observations that pack a subtle after shock of insightfully insinuated scrutiny."

Funny? Yes, but not laugh out loud funny, more wry and sometimes black humor (warning!). I found myself grinning quite a bit.

The artwork is delightful, being by the well known artist and author Ian Falconer of Olivia the Pig, etc.
99 comments293 of 324 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on October 27, 2010
Misanthropic seems like a strange word to describe a book in which nearly all the characters are animals, but that's what this book is. Almost entirely missing is the tenderness, the hopefulness about the possibility of meaningful relationships that characterizes the rest of David Sedaris' work. The one or two stories -- "Hello Kitty" may really be the only one -- that offer something in this vein aren't enough to redeem the book.

Like so many other negative reviewers, I'm a long-time fan of Sedaris, from his very first appearances on This American Life through all of his published works. I've been to readings and have signed copies of "Barrel Fever" and "Naked".

What's more, I was really looking forward to THIS book. I'd heard one or two of these "fables" on This American Life and hoped Sedaris would put out a volume of them. In fact, I was disappointed that his last book, "When You Are Engulfed in Flames", was not that. (Frankly, I thought "Engulfed" was weak in comparison to his previous three books.)

These stories are brutal, vulgar, even hateful. What's most disappointing is that there is nothing really being said about the hypocrisy, self-centeredness, arrogance, woundedness, ignorance and other negative human traits being lived out by the hapless animals in these tales. The only commentary seems to be that people are awful, and life is misery.

This is so different from Sedaris' previous work. Yes, there's always been a sharp critique of hypocrisy in his stories, but there has also been a sense of hope, and laugh-out-loud humor that we can SHARE in. Only a monster (or someone under an "emperor's new clothes" delusion about Sedaris) could laugh at these stories.

Probably the most repugnant thing about this book is Ian Falconer's illustrations. Not only are they extremely graphic in a way that seems calculated not to illuminate the stories but simply to disgust the reader, but they're often SPOILERS -- turn the page and the picture reveals something we haven't read yet, ruining the story. The book seems almost to hold the reader in contempt.

Moreover, the comic style of the illustrations evinces no sense that there could be any meaning to any of the suffering in these stories; thus they undermine the reader's desperate effort to squeeze something humane out of the stories. The illustrations confirm that this book is pure blood sport.

My hope is that the entire project was just one big, huge mistake -- that Sedaris and his publisher were so blinded by the cleverness of the basic concept here of a book of dark fables that they lost sight of how far off the hook the whole thing had gotten.

But I'm skeptical. If "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" seemed a half-hearted effort, "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" seems positively phoned in (perhaps with the defiled phone in a Bukowski story I once read). These stories are one-note -- the self-absorbed hypocrite comes to a bad end, usually out of all proportion to their actual crimes. They often feel incomplete.

The foul language and vulgarity that pepper Sedaris' other work in a way that is usually humorous are here Sedaris' primary tools, and as such become quickly tiresome. In place of wit, Sedaris offers us lots of anuses (literal and figurative) -- like a little kid who just learned about poop jokes, only this little kid is a grown man with millions of readers.

Even the book itself, as a physical object, is disappointing. It's a tiny little book to begin with, but the pages are extremely thick; without the illustrations and heaver paper, it'd be nothing but a chapbook.

My advice to Sedaris fans: skip this one. Really. No matter how much you're wanting that Sedaris fix, walk away. Go reread "Naked" or "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim". And then wait hopefully for Sedaris to come back to himself and write something worth reading again.
6565 comments439 of 519 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
I hate Aesop. He was mean-spirited and horrible, and assumed the worst of the human (and animal) spirit, and was needlessly gross and brutal.

David Sedaris is a hilariously funny version, with keen-eyed and often brutal insights into human nature, but also with an occasional sweetness that surprised and touched me.

I loved reading this book, but felt I had to be on guard, because you can't trust your heart to these stories. Sedaris doesn't care if he kills and maims along the way to his lesson. Unhappy lives and unhappy endings happened to a lot of these characters, even ones who didn't necessarily deserve it.

The story about the sheep broke my freaking heart. Seriously. I cried. The illustrations by Ian Falconer of Olivia fame made the story even more heartbreaking. At the beginning of the story I kept going back to giggle at the insanely cheerful little lamb sitting with his mother. I loved the lamb. And then at the end, he got his eyes plucked out because his mother was kind of vacant and silly. Where was the justice in that story?

A few huge, dark downers set the tone of the book for me, and it was a bit hard to read while making sure I didn't actually end up caring about anyone just in case they got slaughtered. But - it was hilarious, too! The little quips about each of the animals were fantastic. Some were based on little-known animal facts and some were based on human nature, but Sedaris managed to slip a really good bit into pretty much every page. The pages are small, so that's saying something.

I'm too much of a delicate flower for this kind of book, but I still enjoyed it a lot. If you've got a strong stomach and care less about all the sweet little creatures, then you will adore this book and will make your spouse come into the room so you can read parts out loud. It's that well crafted.

Falconer's illustrations were spot-on to the tone of the book. A little too gross in places, adorable and heart-wrenching in others. Really enhanced my experience of the book, and I can't imagine one without the other.
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on October 3, 2010
Like all other huge fans of David Sedaris, I was anxious with anticipation for the release of this new book. Unfortunately, the book is very disappointing. I went in expecting it to be laugh-out-loud funny like his other books, but this fell short ... way short. Forget about laughing, chuckling or even periodically grinning, it just does not come close to David's other works. Sedaris has apparently grown bored of writing the stories we love, and he tried something new. It is not the premise of the animal allegories that fails. They are still creative and written in Sedaris' familiar voice. What has changed is the wit, which has grown darker, and more crude in an in-your-face kind of way. Sedaris is a great humorist because of is his ability to make the reader relate to his stories and that is missing here. Sedaris' books were, until now, always funny because in reading them we could laugh at ourselves. There was no laughing this time because even as creative as the stories may be, I cannot relate to the madcap antics of mutilated or excrement covered birds or chipmunks. This was not a difficult read by any stretch of the imagination, I was, however, so disappointed with its humor that I truly wanted to stop reading. I give his effort a "B+" for creativity, a "D" for humor and an "Incomplete" for filling my Sedaris fix.
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on October 13, 2010
Let me start by saying that David Sedaris is one of the most clever and insightful writers I've ever come across. His stories have caused me to laugh out loud on numerous occasions, and I have recommended them to everyone I know.

This book, however, is a very different case.

A collection of sixteen short stories, each accompanied by one or more of Ian Falconer's illustrations, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is nothing like Sedaris' earlier works. Of the stories, I found the majority to be disgustingly violent. Only one was somewhat interesting, and a couple were dull. None of them amused me, and aside from a few lines here and there, none were clever or witty. Many of them were predictable, and aside from their grotesque violence, few were memorable.

I was looking forward to a new Sedaris offering, but this book is going straight to a used book dealer. It's the only Sedaris writing that I don't want on my bookshelf.
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on November 14, 2010
Obligatory prelude: I love Davis Sedaris and have read nearly all of his books.

"Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" is one for the trash heap. Its animal stories, supposedly inspired by African fables, is far more vulgar and disturbing than funny or edifying. Once in a while, as in the story of the religion-spouting crow who pecks and eats out a newborn lamb's eyes, there is a sort of moral -- beware rapacious preachers who fleece the faithful. Most of the other stories are just ugly, cruel, pointless. Perhaps that is Sedaris's point -- that the world is a nasty place full of the selfish, the stupid, the crazy and the dangerous. But "humorous" reading it is not. The blood and vomit soaked illustrations don't help.

It's nice to see authors abandon the tried and true to break new ground. Let's just chalk up "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" as a experiment gone terribly, terribly wrong.
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on October 4, 2010
I hate to give such a negative review because I really like David Sedaris. However, I did not like this book at all. The stories have no heart, and I just couldn't get past the animal cruelty, particularly in the bear story. Also, the writing was just downright lazy at times. A mouse has a baby snake as a pet. Gee, I wonder what will happen? I appreciate dark humor, but this just wasn't funny, in my opinion. I couldn't wait to be done with it.
1010 comments77 of 91 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on October 9, 2010
I've read and enjoyed every book Sedaris has written, but for the first time, I've been disappointed.

This book is not funny. It is not insightful. The animals all play roles of boring, one-dimensional characters, many of which are quite similiar from story to story. It's dark, and it's depressing. And it's not dark in a hilariously twisted "five dollar now" kind of way (Sedaris fans will get the reference from Barrel Fever). It's dark in an empty kind of way. Kindle readers - download a sample first (I regret that I did not). What you see there is pretty much it - you'll just get more of the same the rest of the way through.

It's a quick read, but I couldn't get through it. I was about halfway through when I decided to throw in the towel.
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on November 15, 2010
Bought this book on Sedaris name alone. I'm a huge fan of his non-fiction and have paid to attend his readings in the past. I fondly remember spending an entire day in the bookstore reading "Dress Your Kids in Corduroy and Denim," because as a student I couldn't afford to buy it. I laughed so much that I was drawing stares from the other patrons.

If I had read this book in that Boston Barnes & Noble, I'm sure I would have been offered a few antacids. I grimaced, groaned, and scowled, but I wouldn't say I laughed. I found these stories uncharacteristically mean-spirited and thoughtless. I understand that he's taking a side-step into "Modern Fable," territory, but the morals are incredibly shallow. They pay-off for the gruesome tales is underwhelming. The artwork on the interior (to distinguish from the fantastic cover) brings the entire work down further. It's cartoony and inappropriate for the dark, grimy stories.
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on November 8, 2010
After looking forward to this book, to the point of pre-ordering both a Kindle and print version, I was struck by the extreme change in tone of Mr. Sedaris in this book. Gone was the biting satire, the laugh-out-loud humor and heartfelt and touching writing style. The three stories that I actually made it through were some of the most bitter, angry prose I have ever read. There is a clear commentary on the current state of social dynamics here (in my opinion), but the images that arise out of this prose are much too dark, much too disturbing and angry for my taste. I shall pass along this book to friends who might receive its voice in better humor. I fear that I cannot recommend this book, and shall return to read the author's earlier works while I ponder what hurt Mr. Sedaris has suffered to prompt such disturbing text.
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