If by chance, you were still engaging in the banal joy of recess in the early 2000s or are the proud moocher of a Netflix account in the modern age, odds are you are already very familiar with Daniel Handler- without having ever heard the name before. And if you fall into the former group who are no longer of an age where is it socially acceptable to be engaging in the banal joy of recess, you might want to become better acquainted with Mr. Handler. Known most famously as the “spokesperson" for the melancholy, eloquent narrator of "A Series of Unfortunate Events," Lemony Snicket, Handler reserves his own name for the adult world, churning out shockingly provocative but equally thoughtful novels such as "The Basic Eight," "All the Dirty Parts," and "Adverbs."
If, by chance, you are the type of reader who prefers a cohesive novel in which one knows precisely what is happening at any given point, well, then I strongly encourage you to put down this book and find something more simplistic, perhaps "Ulysses."
Allison might be “Soundly" or “Wrongly" or she might not be the same Allison who is drawn to Steven who might or might not be the Steven who gets injured in the woods prompting him to send Tom to look for help where he interrupts Eddie and Adam who might or might not be the same Adam who later hooks up with Thomas because there are so many Andrea's and David's and Joe's in the world that who can bother to keep track.
Confused? Well, that's Handler's interpretation of love: mismatched half-truths of misleading fragments in someone's life. It is complex and messy, and as the cover declares “it is not about the nouns. The miracle is in the adverbs, the ways things are done."
Each of the 17 vaguely-related short stories that make up this novel insists on the single declaration that 'This is Love' is written in bold letters in the subtext of each. Rightfully, the anthology of stories is a preaching tool used to declare that no two people love in the same way nor are relationships, as a loose term for human connections, a definable, clear path everyone finds themselves walking down. It is perhaps a trite moral justification for a novel, but when Handler forces you to look at love as “sitting with someone you've known forever in a place you've been meaning to go, and watching as their life happens to them until you stand up and it's time to go" love starts to become less of a plot device for teenage young adult novels and more of a complex nuisance of the human condition that happens to us while we are busy living life.
And don't think for a second that just because the umbrella theme is love, that Handler loses any of the distorted wit and dark humor that sold nearly sixty-five million copies of "A Series of Unfortunate Events." Sure, he dabbles in certain clichés that would leave the cynics gagging, however, the man knows how to turn a phrase and make you laugh when a dying woman stripteases a bartender, showing him her scar as a symbolic middle finger.
While his infamous tone remains and there is a certain allure to a majority of the stories, his touch with reality and sensibility at times falters. The glory of the way Handler sets up his novel is that one can pick and choose which stories to spend time with and which to skip without fear of missing any information (aside from the passing mention of a former character or a new analogy applied to magpies). “Briefly" is a charming, 3-page recollection of a man's first love. He accidentally hits a magpie out of the air while golfing and is thrown into a memory of a taboo feeling for his older sister's boyfriend, Keith, as he watches him step out of the shower in a locker room after a day of swimming. He explains that to him love is “this sudden crash in your path, quick and to the point, and nearly always it leaves someone slain on the greens." The story is logical and humanistic and perhaps a simple manipulation of his reader's emotion, but one that is worth accepting. There are then less readily acceptable stories like “Frigidly," in which an ice queen is being chased down by detectives in a diner while a little boy is waiting for her at the counter.
If by chance, you're inclined to follow, or not follow, the intertwining imagination of an intelligently dark mastermind's stab at love stories, "Adverbs" is a delightful sometimes-novel of the experiences that happen to our fellow nouns when we're not paying attention. Handler has created a novel that every adult should experience before the volcano under San Fran erupts to kill us all.
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