On the way to the Jersey shore we played Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by the hilarious and raunchy David Sedaris. It’s a series of modern day fables that one person characterized as “Aesop meets Lewis Carroll.” It features cats, dogs, baboons, birds, squirrels, chipmunks, bears, rabbits, pigs, and sheep who display the whole range of our humanity: kindness and meanness, faithfulness and unfaithfulness, gratefulness and ungratefulness, prejudice, snobbery, neuroticism, narcissism, rationalization, misguided parenting, and things we do for survival’s sake.
The observations are sometimes sweet, often brutal, but his insights into human nature are as honest as can be. What makes these stories especially memorable is that they are read by Sedaris, in his own quirky voice, and by Elaine Strich and other actors who have their own distinctive and unforgettable voices. And even though some of the content was a little raunchy, I still listened to it with my teenage son because the morals of the stories were that compelling.
On another long car ride we played Man in the Grey Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson. Apparently, the TV series Mad Men was inspired by this book, a 1955 best seller about a young man who returns from WW II and tries to reintegrate himself into normal life. Since I am such a Mad Men fanatic, I had to listen to this story to see how some of the main story lines in the series were based (loosely) on the themes of this story: war time trauma, childhood trauma, the pressures of marriage and parenthood, the stress of being in a job you aren’t suited for or stopped enjoying. It has to do with he question of : Who am I? It’s a hard question to answer when you are busy trying to pay your bills, all while repressing miserable memories that engulf you with pain. But we all know, the more you repress a thought, the more power it has to surface…..
This is another great story about human nature and endurance and resilience. I also listened to this with my son, this time on his way to college. He was hooked on this story, which we started as soon as we left the house and finished many hours later as we pulled into the hotel. The war stories captivated him. It was poignant for me because my father was in fierce battles in the war and came back and had his children in the 1950’s and worked hard to be a success, so I saw much of my family in that story. It made me miss and appreciate my father, who died several years ago.
The other great thing about listening to this with Rick was that, the night before he moved into school and I had “the talk” with him, I said, “remember in the story, how things just happened…….” It gave me a wonderful way to start a long conversation, not only about the obvious subject of sex, but about life, about knowing yourself, about the inevitable stresses we all have to find a way to manage.