Saturday, December 12, 2009
Cannonball Entry #9: Adverbs - Daniel Handler
What better way to start off a review of Daniel Handler's gleefully romantic Adverbs then with a horribly sappy story of my own? Here goes: I can still remember my first kiss with Clyde. We were at Campus one day chatting with someone else when he told us that we were a cute (albeit, unofficial) couple. It was at this point that he asked us to kiss, and we did. I know this doesn't seem that romantic, but here's the thing: I can remember every singly detail about the kiss. If you were to bring me back to Campus, I could pinpoint the stools we were sitting on. I can remember that the music pretty much muted, what his lips felt like, and the first thing we said afterward.
Clyde: Are you wearing chapstick?
Clyde: I like it.
I can also tell you that I still have the same tube of chapstick in my room and that anytime I feel sad or nervous (or if my lips are chapped) I'll put some on. But if you focus too much on the stools or the berry-flavoured chapstick or the way he'd feed me french fries dipped in mayonnaise whenever we were home alone, you'd miss the important part, the reason why any of this mattered to me at all or the reason why I'm currently biting my lip and mentally willing myself to stop crying.
It was love.
That's the central message of Adverbs, a sort of collection of vignettes tied together with recurring themes, ambiguously-named characters and dry narration. Each story seems to exist withing one another like a Russian nesting doll, each one tangentially related to another in a way that you can't ever quite put your finger on.
If this sounds confusing, that's because it is. Handler repeatedly either uses characters with the same name or reuses the same characters, transplanting them from one story to the next. Everyone falls in love with everyone, and they love Immediately, Soundly, Clearly, Barely, and just about every other word that ends with the suffix -ly that you can think of.
The whole point is that you can try to follow the characters or the magpies or the taxis around all you want as the weave in and out of the book with the sort of grace and precision that only someone with the impeccable writing style of Daniel Handler can perform, but the point Handler is trying to get across is that it's how they love, not who they love, that really matters. Something the people in Maine and California could do to learn eventually.
Unfortunately, you can only get so much mileage out of this before you start to run out of gas. Adverbs would have been better suited wrapping up with the chapter entitled 'Truly', but unfortunately tried to eek out a few more chapters before finishing up. I can appreciate the added the reading material, but like a Christmas present you receive in February, it felt like it was wrapped up a tad too late.
That being said, if you're someone who needs to be reminded that romance isn't dead and that unflinchingly honest and witty portrayals of love in literature is alive and well too, do yourself an enormous favour and give it a read.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to put on more berry-flavoured chapstick.