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"A white-tailed doe was discovered one morning disemboweled on the banks of the stream, and the residents of the forest went crazy with fear — 'freaked out' was how the sparrow put it. A few days later, a skunk was found, no more than a gnawed-upon skull attached to a short leash of spine. Personality-wise, he'd been no great shakes. Neither was he particularly good-looking, but still! Then a squirrel disappeared, and it was decided that something had to be done." So something was.

A gate with a sign reading NO TRESPASSING is erected in the forest to keep out the riffraff. A no-nonsense rabbit elects to stand guard. And before this tale, called "The Vigilant Rabbit," ends, that rabbit has clobbered a laughing snake, a questioning magpie, and an insolent frog. Then he chews off the horn of a sleeping unicorn. But at least the unicorn survives. No ultimate word on the rabbit, though. When the story closes, he's staring at the diamond he's coughed up (thanks to the unicorn's magical horn he swallowed), while, unseen, some unwelcome wolves arrive.

Welcome to one of the 16 not-so-lighthearted stories in David Sedaris' new book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (Little, Brown), illustrated by Ian Falconer.

Rough stuff? Yes, and including: a busybody hairdresser — a real baboon — with a bad word about everybody; a bear — a real crybaby — who won't shut up about the loss of her mother; a smooth-talking crow who plucks out the eyes of a lamb (while the lamb's mother is lost in meditation); a cat who's forced to endure the inanities of a prison AA program; and a generous gerbil who agrees to investigate the leeches that live inside the anus of a hippopotamus.

Absurdist stuff? No more absurdist than what's inspired David Sedaris: the darker side of human nature.

David Sedaris Reading from and signing "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk," Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Saturday, November 13th, 3 p.m.

(683-9801). Line ticket, with book purchase, required. No photos of the author, please!

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