Reading David Sedaris

When David Sedaris came to read as part of Syracuse University lecture series, I didn’t know he was a household name. Isn’t discovery one of the pleasures of being in another culture/place? The event was widely publicized, free tickets and all, and that made me do the typical nowadays: google him. Time for the reading, the Goldstein Auditorium was packed.

I was immediately taken in by his sense of humor and amazing tales, particularly, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk collection, which aren’t exactly fables but immediately took me to the world of Aesop I’d grown up in, plus the folk tales and fables of my people. They were all of a sudden familiar, yet new and refreshing. I was happy to add him to my writer list because of how endearing and imaginative his stories are.

I got a copy of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk from George Saunders, after we talked about internal rules that any fiction writer ought to be aware of when creating a whole new fictitious world. For instance, animals with paws may scratch at the door because in the real world that’s what paws are capable of. Or they may knock because if the animals do have a door, then they’re operating in a world like that of humans. Consistency in rules and language choice matter. This was after I’d written a Beaver story, so naturally the fictitious world of Beatrix Potter and David Sedaris came up in reference. I don’t know how many Rabbit stories I’ve read since teething time, and will continue to read and be charmed, because you always know that the rabbit is not really the rabbit.

Anyway, same with Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. The stories really address the human condition, but who knows if the so-called human challenges don’t exist in the animal kingdom? Issues of fidelity, jealous, hunger, miscommunication, survival, love, betrayal, trust, appropriateness, power abuse, even religion, the list goes on. That’s what makes Sedaris’ stories feel genuine and true because in a way we’ve been those squirrels and chipmunks, toads, turtles and ducks, parenting storks and judicious chickens. Isn’t it true that a great writer is one who makes you see your reflection (better if you hate what you see and try to transform it), his or her words becoming your mirror?

Remembering George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Sedaris’ impressive use of parody and satire makes the stories wickedly funny, magical, even absurd. Between lovers, a ‘simple’ misunderstanding as the definition of jazz leads to a lifetime separation. Hearts grow dark, distant, and then break. What seems hilarious at first turns into the big human question: Where do you hide your heart?




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