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Adverbs (P.S.)


Adverbs (P.S.) Cover

ISBN13: 9780060724429
ISBN10: 0060724420
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Author Q & A

A Conversation With Daniel Handler

At what point in the composition of this novel did you arrive at the idea to use Adverbs as an organizing principle?

When I began writing the novel I didn't know what it was that I was doing, really: I just found myself, between Snicket novels, writing about the romantic and platonic adventures of a group of people. Normally, I map a novel out before starting it, but in this case I found myself with a bunch of pages. As I typed them into my computer, I titled each section with an adverb, just to remind myself which ones they were so I could move them around in the hopes of making a novel. In the process of rewriting them, connecting and severing different sections and finally laying them out in sequence, I was reminded of a parlor game called Adverbs, in which actions are improvised according to an adverb someone is supposed to guess. I suddenly realized that this strategy would be an intriguing one to try for a novel, and that the titles I'd been using as placeholders could make for a sort of roadmap through the novel.

Though you warn your reader against the foolhardiness of "trac[ing] birds through a book," can you talk a bit about the omnipresence of magpies in Adverbs?

I first heard the term "Magpie's eye" from the novelist Paula Sharp, my conversation with whom is recalled in the novel. I'd never heard the expression before, and the more I thought about it the more it seemed a nice parallel to love. Magpies are attracted to shiny objects, and can spend hours poring through debris in order to grasp the tiny shiny thing they desire. But there's no real purpose in this action: sure, they bring the shiny objects back to their nests, but magpies could make nests out of anything. Love is like this — specific and inexplicable. We pick through all the people we meet in pursuit of someone who attracts us, but to outsiders it hardly seems worth the trouble.

You've described yourself as "frustrated by the ineptitude of narration," in the context of many contemporary novels. To what extent is Adverbs: A Novel your deliberate subversion of more traditional fictional forms and conventional notions of plot?

Gack, I hope to no extent whatsoever. Even in high school I was wary of deliberate subversives. I was simply looking for a way to write about love that might be more interesting than, say, boy-meets-girl. Love is a slippery thing, so it makes sense to me that a book about love should be similarly slippery, with the stories as entangled as the characters, and the reader occasionally plunged into the kind of confusion afflicting lovers. If Adverbs thumbs its nose at more conservative novels that's an interesting side effect, but I was more concerned with capturing the untrammelled mess of romance than kicking sand in anyone's face.

Daniel Handler makes an appearance in Adverbs. What compelled you to write yourself into this novel?

I was inspired by Milan Kundera's The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting, which also has an unusual, somewhat episodic structure. At one point Kundera steps into the novel himself and talks a little bit about what he's doing, as I do in "Truly." Whether readers will find me as interesting a figure as Kundera is debatable, but at least I treat my female characters better.

Can you describe the pleasures you find in writing novels for children and adults, and how, composition-wise, these endeavors differ for you?

I don't find any difference — whatever I'm writing, I engage in the usual sporadic research, the wiggy, baggy first draft and then heaps of rewriting. But it seems worth noting that Adverbs focusses on love — the emotional terrain that's more or less absent from the Snicket books.

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Christy Valentine, July 28, 2009 (view all comments by Christy Valentine)
Daniel Handler is one of the most inventive contemporary novelists currently writing. That much was apparent from "A Series of Unfortunate Events," written under his pseudonym, but he really gets a chance to shine when writing for adults. Each of his earlier novels addresses the narrative in a new way, and "Adverbs" is no difference.

It's easier to classify the book as a series of connected short stories, all about a group of assorted people in the way in which they fall in love. Though Handler offers that the characters are not necessarily constant, many of the names are repeated and characters seem to know the same people, so it's arguable that they are simply being presented in separate circumstances. As in his previous books, the narrators should be considered unreliable, as the information of different stories is not always constant. This pendulous nature should not be seen as a deterrent, however. Instead, it is demonstrative of the nature of the emotions Handler chooses to present. The love of his stories does not always make sense, but it is consistently honest and representative of the love of the young.

Those of appreciate the ironic tone of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" will probably enjoy the book, though it should be said that Handler's novels deal with decidedly adult issues. Although a subtext of sexual menace is present in his fiction for younger readers, "Adverbs"- and his other novels- address sexuality in far more fluid terms than his previous series. Labels of "gay" or "straight" do not apply in this book. Instead, the role of orientation further expresses Handler's sense of new and contemporary love in our modern age of disorientation and disconnect.
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Product Details

Handler, Daniel
Harper Perennial
ndler, Daniel
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7.99x5.36x.73 in. .55 lbs.

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Adverbs (P.S.) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 288 pages Harper Perennial - English 9780060724429 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The qualities that draw millions to Lemony Snicket — absurdity, wicked humor, a love of wordplay — get adulterated in this elegant exploration of love. Handler brings linguistic pyrotechnics to a set of encounters: gay, straight, platonic and all degrees of dysfunctional. Amid the deadpan ('Character description: Appropriately tall. Could dress better.') and the exhausting ('Love was in the air, so both of us walked through love on our way to the corner.') are moments of blithe poignancy: quoth a lone golfer, 'Love is this sudden crash in your path, quick and to the point, and nearly always it leaves someone slain on the green.' In 'Obviously,' a teenage boy pines for his co-worker at the multiplex while they both tear tickets for Kickass: The Movie. In 'Briefly,' the narrator, now married, recounts being 14 and infatuated with his big sister's boyfriend, Keith. 'Truly' begins 'This part's true,' and features a character named Daniel Handler, who has an exchange about miracles with a novelist named Paula Sharp. Handler began his career with the coming-of-age novel The Basic Eight; this lovely, lilting book is a kind of After School Special for adults that dramatizes love's cross-purposes with panache: 'Surely somebody will arrive, in a taxi perhaps, attractively, artfully, aggressively, or any other way it is done.' (May)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "[A] narrative ingenuity that should delight readers interested in exploring the possibilities of fiction....Handler's prose is warm, funny, smart and addictively readable....Experimental fiction is rarely this emotionally engaging."
"Review" by , "[W]itty — but ultimately wearying....Handler can certainly turn a phrase, but his prose is so overloaded with linguistic acrobatics...it's likely to leave some readers a bit bent out of shape, especially if they were expecting Lemony Snicket for grown-ups."
"Review" by , "Adverbs has implausibilities, indulgences and a track list that drags on a few cuts too long. But what stays with you is the music: the elegantly rendered emotion, the linguistic somersaults, the brilliantly turned reminders that there are a million ways to describe love and none of them will ever be the last word."
"Review" by , "In every technical sense...this is an impeccable creation, from start to finish and top to bottom....But Adverbs, unfortunately, while easy to admire, is hard to love quite as much as one should."
"Review" by , "Although he oozes wit and he's an astute social observer, [Handler's] voice can feel intrusive in spots, coming between the reader and the story....In the end, despite its quirks, the book's offbeat sweetness charms."
"Review" by , "[C]lever, unsettling, confusing, and often brilliantly moving."
"Review" by , "Adverbs is not an unequivocal success. It makes a valiant case for the indispensability of style, but all the quirky stylistic connections in the world...will not rescue a narrative when it fails to connect emotionally with the reader."
"Synopsis" by , Can Joe help it if he falls in love with people who don't make him happy? And what about Helena—she's in love, but somehow this isn't enough. Shouldn't it be? And if it isn't enough, does this mean she's not really in love? It certainly seems to be spoiling the love she's in. And let's say there's a volcano underneath the city—doesn't that make things more urgent? Does urgency mean that you should keep the person you're with, or search for the best possible person? And what if the best possible person loves someone else—like the Snow Queen, for instance?

This novel may not answer these questions, but nevertheless the author and publisher hope it will be of interest.

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