Adverbs, by Daniel Handler
8/10 – delightful tragicomic collection of vignettes about love, and people, but mostly love.
Possibly, you know Daniel Handler better under his psuedonym, Lemony Snicket, author of the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books. Unfortunately, this is likely to remain the rule rather than the exception, since “Adverbs” does not lend itself well to a movie adaptation (though I did get to see a staged performance of four of the chapters by San Francisco’s “Word for Words” troupe which was very entertaining). Unsurprisingly, if you enjoy the “Unfortunate Events” books’ clever and smart wordplay, you will enjoy “Adverbs.”
Initially you might think that all the vignettes are connected by the characters that inhabit them, moving back and forth in space and time. Subsequently, you would notice that although many of the characters share identical or similar names and circumstances, they are not all the same–for example, not all the characters named “Tomas” across different stories are the same character, except perhaps they are. Cannily, Handler keeps us guessing about the characters and their histories, weaving the stories together with small tugs of reference here and subtle and not-so-subtle themes there. Familiarly to fans of the “Unfortunate Events” books, the narrative’s images also recur throughout (magpies and volcanoes, for instance), here in a more grown-up if no less fantastical setting.
Delightfully, Handler crafts wonderful sentences and characters and situations, each one a joy to read about. Often I stopped just to read a sentence back to myself, and I am not usually a proponent of the “beautiful sentence” school of writing. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as clear on how some of the stories fit into the overall narrative, though I enjoyed them all. Sometimes it seemed as though he were more interested in writing something offbeat than following the narrative, which is fine, I suppose, since as I said, I enjoyed all the stories on their own. Thankfully, Handler does expose his hand in “Truly,” giving us his message in case, like me, we’re too dense or too impatient to puzzle it out on our own. Admirably, he has a good reason for the way the book is structured, and an important message to deliver, unlike this review, which has neither, whose only point is to tell you that if you like sentences like, “Love is candy from a stranger, but it’s candy you’ve had before and it probably won’t kill you,” then you should pick up and read this book. Definitely.