Animal fables with a twist

Jen Vogl, staff writer

In your typical fable, animals speak, walk on their hind legs, and deliver morals to young children all while acting like cute and adorable versions of people. However, in author David Sedaris’s new book, “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary,” animals take on the grittier traits of humans. Rabbits kill innocent creatures, cats struggle to overcome alcoholism, and dogs cheat on their adulterous wives in a collection of 16 short stories.

Sedaris departs from his usual stories about his eccentric family and home life to write these fables. Although older fans will recognize “The Cat and the Baboon” from his live shows, these stories are new for the most part.

In classical Sedaris style, the narrative bounces back and forth from funny to slightly uncomfortable. While one laughs at the way a naïve stork interprets where babies come from, it quickly becomes awkward as she explains the biological method to her child, and then assuring her child that the stork will tell the “true” method, involving magic mice, when the baby stork grows up.

The illustrations tend to shock the reader as well. Ian Falconer, the illustrator for the children’s series “Olivia,” drew all of the pictures in the book. The first couple of illustrations depicted animals talking to each other. But after a few stories, the pictures turned from kind of cute to grotesque. One shows a lab mouse literally puking up bloody guts, while another picture shows a bear in a skirt chained with open wounds covering its body.

These tales differ wildly from traditional fables in that the world they inhabit is unfair. A rabbit kills animals trying to enter the forest because they point out what little good the gate does without a wall. A pig laments the fact that his breed is named “potbellied” and puts himself on an extreme diet to get rid of his own. However, this makes the animals easy to connect to and many stories can be applied to a person’s own life or to what they see on the news.

The book works well if read as a standard Sedaris comedy. The morals given are simple and applicable for the adult world. However, if you are an animal rights activist or strongly dislike violence, you won’t like this book because it does contain some animal abuse. But I strongly recommend the book for anyone looking for something different.