First aired on Q (10//10)
Move over, Aesop. Humorist David Sedaris, best known for his essays covering everything from his sexuality to his siblings, has turned his dark, distinctive wit to moral fables of human nature in a beastly guise. His latest project isSquirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, a collection of stories in which animals take on human characteristics and adult situations — marital unfaithfulness, addiction — as an allegorical comment on contemporary morality (or lack of it).
After publishing seven essay collections, Sedaris was itching to get back into writing fiction. His inspiration came from an unlikely source: an audio-book of South African folk tales he was given, and subsequently set out to top. The collection began seven years ago with a single story and grew from there, with Sedaris writing whenever the inspiration struck, keeping what worked and tossing what didn't. Ten finished fables didn't even make the final collection.
Fiction was an obvious route for the acclaimed writer to go. But why explore human behaviour through anthropomorphic animals? Even with the collection complete, Sedaris is not so sure.
"They wouldn't be like us. We can walk out that door any time we want. In some circumstances they're a little bit different than people. But, for the most part, they could. Like the squirrel and the chipmunk had been dating for two weeks and then they ran out of things to talk about. I've had friends that have had dates for two weeks and then ran out of things to talk about. But for some reason I'm not that interested in them," Sedaris explained to Jian Ghomeshi on a recent interview on Q. "But if it's a squirrel and a chipmunk, I'm on the edge of my seat."
Humour aside, these animals, like Sedaris himself in his earlier works, often explore dark and difficult scenarios. They reminisce about the one that got away, strive to overcome the grief of losing a loved one and seek a balance between being an optimist and being unrealistic. Sedaris is confident his fans will see past the beady eyes of his beastly protagonists and recognize that, in essence, the fables explore what it is to be human.
"I feel like if this was a really bad idea someone would have stopped me," Sedaris says." But equally scary is the idea that somebody would say 'Well, people like him, so somebody will buy it.'" Sedaris admits he has no idea how to please an audience and credits his success not to his talent, but to his ability to tap into a larger movement of shared tastes. "I've been lucky that if I please myself often that pleases other people. It's like we have the same idea of what's nice. I'm hoping that again we'll have the same idea."
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