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By now the secret is out --- the real identity of wildly successful
children's author Lemony Snicket, creator of A Series of
Unfortunate Events, is none other than Daniel Handler. Now, with
ADVERBS, his most recent book for grown-ups, Handler loses none of
the verbal gymnastics and wry humor that has made his kids' series
so beloved by millions of children (and the many adults who also
appreciate it as a guilty pleasure).

But make no mistake --- ADVERBS is definitely not a
children's book. Instead, woven among its clever wordplay and its
self-referential playfulness is a genuinely thoughtful series of
considerations of love --- where we find it, how we lose it, why we
pursue it despite dangers, heartbreaks, and catastrophes of
volcanic proportions.

ADVERBS is a difficult book to describe. Its cover describes it as
a novel, but it's not really. Its interlocking characters and
plotlines, though, make it more than a collection of short stories.
Instead of a cohesive plot, ADVERBS is united primarily by imagery,
symbolism and theme.

Magpies (whether in the guise of devious birds or high school
sports teams) flit artfully through the pages; nausea-inducing
cocktails with absurd names like Morning Sickness and Hong Kong
Cobbler are ordered up at countless bars; envelopes containing
photographs or money fall out of one handbag and into another.
Characters named Andrea, Joe, Allison and David appear over and
over again --- but are they the same characters or do they just
share common names? Readers who are tolerant of a
McSweeney's-esque postmodern knowingness will tolerate
Handler's playfulness, while those in search of a more grounded,
traditional narrative may grow frustrated.

ADVERBS is more than worthy of the energy it demands of its
readers, though. If anything unites this book, it is the
consideration of love in all its forms. Throughout the book,
characters try to define love, often just at the moment they are
finding it or losing it forever. Ultimately, though, Handler
writes, the task of defining love is doomed to failure: "It is not
the diamonds or the birds, the people or the potatoes; it is not
any of the nouns. The miracle is the adverbs, the way things are
done. It is the way love gets done despite every catastrophe."
Indeed, each chapter title is an adverb ("Briefly," "Clearly,"
"Wrongly," etc.), and each one illustrates a defining moment ---
for good or ill --- in the characters' pursuit of love.

In "Obviously," a young usher tries to prove his chivalry and
bravery in front of the woman he loves by tracking down a
stranger's keys in a dark movie theater. In "Soundly," a young
woman tries to come to terms with her best friend's terminal
illness: "I'd spent my life driving around my city with Lila while
the pop music told us what was happening and what it was like, and
never wished I was doing anything else." In "Truly," the narrator's
mother loses a diamond in Arizona and it miraculously resurfaces in
a novel set in Wisconsin.

Throughout, ADVERBS is a challenging, sometimes perplexing read
that nonetheless offers perceptive, flexible readers moments of
hilarity, poignancy, and even clarity. There are no happy endings,
no real endings at all --- just moments of connection and hope in
the midst of absurdity. Happily, or unhappily, ADVERBS is a book
that defies easy categorization or definition --- much like love


Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 22, 2010

by Daniel Handler

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0060724420
  • ISBN-13: 9780060724429