Although I was never a huge David Sedaris fan (preferring essayist David Rakoff, just to be difficult), he's been growing on me of late. I think he tipped the scales when I listened to one of his essays about the medical care he received while in Paris.* It was a hilarious little piece about how he kept worrying about not having insurance, and giving the doctors his contact information in Paris so they could track him down for payment, and the doctors kept reassuring him they didn't need any of that stuff right away, first they were just going to treat him, and how happily shocked he was by the whole experience (as he was familiar with the American way, which belongs more to the "beat payment out, THEN treat illness" school), culminating in his resting in a recovery ward of the hospital, where they let him smoke, which made the whole thing one of his best days ever. Good stuff.
So I was excited to get his new essay collection, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. And, although I read half of it and got more than a few chuckles out of it, I'm not going to keep reading it. I'm not sure what they're called, but these are little essays/stories/fables told from animals' points of view, and they're nicely illustrated by Ian Falconer (of "Olivia" picture book fame). The title story, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, is actually quite funny:
"The squirrel and the chipmunk had been dating for two weeks when they ran out of things to talk about. Acorns, parasites, the inevitable approach of autumn: these subjects had been covered within their first hour, and so breathlessly their faces had flushed. Twice they had held long conversations about dogs, each declaring an across-the-board hatred of them and speculating on what life might be like were someone to put a bowl of food in front of them two times a day. 'They're spoiled rotten is what it comes down to,' the chipmunk had said, and the squirrel had placed his paw over hers, saying, 'That's it exactly. Finally, someone who really gets it.'" (p. 15.)
There's no doubt about it, Sedaris is a sharp guy, and a good humor writer. But I've never been into these types of stories. (Allegories? Is that what they are?) They remind me a bit of James Thurber's humor writing, and although I recognize his talent as well, this kind of fable humor has never been for me. (And some of these tales, much like fairy tales, can get very dark indeed.) I much prefer something straightforward and cutting, by authors like Dorothy Parker. I always feel like I get Dorothy Parker, although I'm sure there's stuff in her essays that I'm missing too.
So: Kudos to Sedaris for mixing things up a bit. But for real reading pleasure I'll probably just get and re-read one of David Rakoff's books.
*I can't for the life of me remember where I heard this essay or what it was called; maybe it was on a "best of..." NPR tape or something.