Squirrel meets Chipmunk by David Sedaris
As a previous fan of Sedaris, Andrew selected this quirky collection of short stories with high hopes of an an amusing interlude for we Billingsgaters.
Sedaris early works are drawn from personal and family experience, and notably the Santa Land Diaries is an absolute pearl of observation and razor sharp wit.Sedaris always walks a fine line between acerbically observed wit and bitchy queen but when he gets it right, the effect is hysterical and reveals human frailty with wit and wisdom. One can't help drawing occasional parallels with Augusten Burroughs, a previous Billingsgate fave. Both have had a difficult upbringing and both have a keen eye for the human condition as a result. Both are sharp and cutting but both can still reach to the heart within.
Sadly on this occasion Sedaris doesn't get it quite right. The short story form fails him somehow, as the condensed, pared back observations become quite vitriolic and judgemental and with little time to respect the beauty of human frailty. One is left rather with the feeling that one has been watching 'Funniest home videos'. Laughing cruelly at others misfortunes and judging the stupidity of their actions without acknowledging the purity of their intent. The stories are very clever - but oh so very harsh. There seems to be an intentional nod to the moral tone of Aesop's fables, but the one sided view presented does rather leave us feeling that he does not suffer fools gladly!
It does seem rather like an exploration for Sedaris, testing the form, and it has to be said the stories while deceptively simple are superbly created and masterfully spare. Cloaking his characters in animal coats and calling it a bestiary does little to soften the sharp judgements, and the illustrations are generally clever and marry with Sedaris's style. It does all feel like a 'cartoon' or sketch in preparation for a later work.
But you do laugh. Often quite loudly and heartily it must be said. The book is an easy read, and entertaining - and most scored it quite well. But it ultimately feels a bit too cruel, and for many of us the laughter died before the end of the work. But nevertheless our Christmas meeting at the Duck n Swan was lovely with yummy if somewhat boutique sized food, and comfy sofas to sprawl into afterwards. It has been a year full of change and upheaval both good and bad for the Billingsgate clan and we all look forward to 2013 with renewed vigour...