I am Daniel Handler, the author of this book. Did you know that authors often write the summaries that appear on their book's dust jacket? You might want to think about that the next time you read something like, "A dazzling page-turner, this novel shows an internationally acclaimed storyteller at the height of his astonishing powers."
Adverbs is a novel about love -- a bunch of different people, in and out of different kinds of love. At the start of the novel, Andrea is in love with David -- or maybe it's Joe -- who instead falls in love with Peter in a taxi. At the end of the novel, it's Joe who's in the taxi, falling in love with Andrea, although it might not be Andrea, or in any case it might not be the same Andrea, as Andrea is a very common name. So is Allison, who is married to Adrian in the middle of the novel, although in the middle of the ocean she considers a fling with Keith and also with Steve, whom she meets in an automobile, unless it's not the same Allison who meets the Snow Queen in a casino, or the same Steve who meets Eddie in the middle of the forest. . . .
It might sound confusing, but that's love, and as the author -- me -- says, "It is not the nouns. The miracle is the adverbs, the way things are done." This novel is about people trying to find love in the ways it is done before the volcano erupts and the miracle ends. Yes, there's a volcano in the novel. In my opinion a volcano automatically makes a story more interesting.
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Daniel Handler has written three novels under his own name, including The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth, and Adverbs, and many books under the name Lemony Snicket, including All the Wrong Questions, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the picture book 13 Words.From The Washington Post:
In "Soundly," perhaps the most emotionally resonant of the 17 adverbially titled pieces that make up Daniel Handler's Adverbs, the narrator remembers what her driver's ed teacher once said a car horn should convey: "Not Move along, buddy or I am displeased but I am here. I am here, I am here, I am here!" That teacher has inadvertently offered up the theme of this jigsaw puzzle of a book about lonely people stepping gingerly through the smoldering volcanic debris field of love.
Handler -- better known as Lemony Snicket, the author of the enormously popular kid-lit "Series of Unfortunate Events" -- has given his adult readers a lot to ponder as they flip over these pieces and work to put them together. Within an atmosphere of impending doom, characters step forward with their attendant baggage, introduce themselves and tell us why true love is so elusive.
And the author tells us things, too -- mostly what love is, metaphorically speaking. Love, apparently, is a lot of different things, from saltwater taffy to acts of Camelot-style chivalry. In a devastating piece called "Briefly," a man who accidentally kills a magpie while playing golf recalls the aching memory of a boyhood crush: "Love is this sudden crash in your path, quick and to the point, and nearly always it leaves someone slain on the green."
Readers of Adverbs are asked to make a dizzying number of connections as they move through the process of putting it all together: Characters who appear early in the book return for reprise visits, or perhaps Handler has mischievously reused their names for totally unrelated characters. The author admits as much himself: "At the end of the novel, it's Joe who's in the taxi, falling in love with Andrea, although it might not be Andrea, or in any case it might not be the same Andrea, as Andrea is a very common name."
The connections -- both the obviously purposeful and the bizarrely tangential -- incorporate repeating story elements. Adverbs is teeming with comically named cocktails (Hong Kong Cobblers, Tipsy Mermaids), things avian (eggs, hummingbirds, lost parakeets and Yellow-billed magpies), along with numerous taxis, bars and diners, a ripped purse and a woman known as the "Snow Queen" who can freeze a man in his tracks with her "Cone of Frost." (Did Lemony just skate through?) When Adverbs works, it works brilliantly and poignantly, taking its ruminations on the complexity and fallibility of love to avian heights. In "Soundly," a dying woman and her friend negotiate a desperate turn of events in the twilight hours of their companionship. In "Naturally," a wrenching tale of loss and disappointment, a murdered man finds love after death only to lose it just as mundane folks do. Other pieces work less successfully, some coming off a little too linguistically cute and clever, or too oblique.
In the end, some readers will wonder why these pieces don't all come together in a satisfying way. But love is a messy thing. In truth, these stories tell us that love is best understood as neither a noun nor a verb. "The miracle is the adverbs," the narrator says in "Truly," "the way things are done. It is the way love gets done despite every catastrophe." This bracing reality constitutes both the primary strength of Adverbs -- and its intrinsic flaw. The puzzle may never be completed because the pieces cannot all be there, and those that are, hardly ever connect the way we wish they would. But that is life and that is love.
Reviewed by Mark Dunn
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
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