Posts Tagged ‘little brown’

I’ve recently finished researching and writing an essay about the zoo, based on the Wheeler Centre/Melbourne Zoo writing fellowship I did at the end of last year. This ended a huge stint of reading mostly zoo-related fiction and non-fiction, and all of a sudden I was at liberty to read whatever I wanted. So obviously I read a book about animals. New habits die hard, or something. Anyhow, I picked this up because obviously Sedaris is fun, and I needed something fun and light. The last book I read for research was a long novel that was far out of my comfort zone (i.e. I hated it), so I wanted just to ease back into leisure reading.

Anyway, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk isn’t really about animals. Sedaris, the great observer and self-analyser, doesn’t totally abstain from his great human-centred talents here. This is an Aesop-like collection of tales, updated for the modern reader. Like Aesop’s, Sedaris’ animal characters illustrate very human foibles. Readers who are dissatisfied with their hairdresser might recognise many irritating traits in ‘The Cat and the Baboon’, in which the baboon, grooming a snooty cat, gossips and hedges and changes her mind. Here, though, Sedaris also satirises some pretty modern personality quirks. In ‘The Parrot and the Potbellied Pig’, the pig, a museum curator, is not troubled by the parrot journalist’s defamatory remarks about his ‘Vietnamese’ heritage, but rather is anxious about being called ‘potbellied’ when, really, he thinks himself rather slim.

The illustrations are by Ian Falconer, who is the author and illustrator of Olivia (!!), so the illos are wonderful, natch. (Apart from the horribly gory one for ‘The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat’, which reminded me way too much of George Saunders’ short story ‘Escape from Spiderhead’ for comfort.) A variety of adorable, nasty, catty or lively animal portraits accompany each story.

I could take or leave a couple of the first stories, which are piquant but lack the heart that make ‘The Cow and the Turkey’ and ‘The Grieving Owl’ the very best and most moving in the book. The owl story is also the funniest, and made me LOL about four times. I had already heard ‘The Cow and the Turkey’ on This American Life, but the tale about barnyard animals who decide to play Secret Santa still affected me. The owl in ‘The Grieving Owl’ is a autodidact who lets his prey go if they can teach him something about the world, leading him to form an unlikely friendship with a gerbil and a hippo who lives in the zoo. (Anal leeches also make an appearance, I’ll warn you.) Who knew anthropomorphised cross-species friendships could be so heart-warming? David Sedaris, that’s who.

Great for those who are interested in a different slant on the meaning life. To show you what I mean, from ‘The Grieving Owl’: “To live in a damp crowded asshole and sing – if these guys don’t know the secret to living, I don’t know who does.”

 


I have to admit I wanted to read Demonology ever since I saw a picture of Miranda July holding a copy. I guess I wanted to get inside her winsomely whimsical head. Did I get there? No — it’s a book, not the portal from Being John Malkovich. It’s a good book, though. Moody is a virtuosic writer who, when the gods of the written word offered him the paint-by-numbers legend for language, filled the empty spaces with blood, car oil, Fanta, splinters and street signs instead.

Moody deals in baroque prose; he’s a gunslinger of a writer who’s not afraid to use all the ammunition at his disposal. His characters brew ‘creamy distillate’, not beer; and spit out ‘rhinoviral gobs’, not phlegm. In one story, ‘Ineluctable Modality of the Vaginal’, academics engage in wearied lovers’ fusillades with the heightened vocabularies of Lacan and Irigaray. Moody often compounds the effects of his adroitness by constructing long, long sentences, with phrases and clauses signposted by comma after comma — one story, ‘Drawer’, doesn’t have any full stops at all.

It would be a little useless to describe Demonology with reference to the qualities of the stories’ characters. Sure, Andrew, the wedding-corporation employee who narrates ‘The Mansion on the Hill’, is a downtrodden mess. While working for Hot Bird, a chicken-restaurant franchise, wearing a chicken mask, he tells a child that ‘Death comes to all’. But more than this episode, it is his percussive refrain of the word ‘Sis’ throughout the story that admits of Andrew’s imbalance. His repetitive invocation echoes the bleating supplication of someone who has done something wrong. Yet Andrew is a friendly, witty guy — there’s more to this story than the voyeuristic look at a damaged person.

‘Wilkie Fahnstock, The Boxed Set‘ takes the form of liner notes in a series of mixtapes representing the life of one Wilkie Fahnstock, ‘an undistinguished American’. It’s kind of a nineties-postmodernist intertextual piece of fluff, but the fictional Fahnstock has pretty good and zeitgeisty taste in music (Cocteau Twins and Laurie Anderson in the mid-eighties, My Bloody Valentine and The Pixies in the nineties), so it’s okay. More successful as an experiment in form is ‘Surplus Value Books: Catalogue Number 13′, in which useful book descriptions and market-friendly prices are supplanted by the logic of the cataloguer’s personal economy: books that serve as artifacts of an unrequited love are listed for thousands of dollars.

What with all the wordplay and the italics and the disappearing full stops, Demonology‘s not all easy to read. ‘Pan’s Fair Throng’ throws riff after riff on language and fairytale at you until frankly, you’re kind of tired and want to get off the merry-go-round. But if you like a little gristle in your literary digestion, Demonology is the book for you: it catalogues not demons but the parameters of our own energies, emotional protuberances, fortunes and fables.

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