Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.)
"[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." Kirkus Reviews
"[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." Booklist
"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." James Poniewozik, The New York Times Book Review
"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." San Francisco Chronicle
"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." Charlotte Observer
"[C]lever, unsettling, confusing, and often brilliantly moving." Library Journal
"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." Los Angeles Times
“Daniel Handler [is] something like an American Nabokov.” Dave Eggers
“Brilliantly kooky and off-kilter.” Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[Handler] oozes wit and hes an astute social observer. The books offbeat sweetness charms.” Charlotte Observer
“This lovely, lilting book...dramatizes loves cross-purposes with panache.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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.
About the Author
Daniel Handler is the author of the novels The Basic Eight and Watch Your Mouth, and as Lemony Snicket, a sequence of novels for children collectively entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. How did you make sense of the narrator's sudden infatuation with Peter, the taxi driver, in "Immediately," the chapter that opens Adverbs?
2. What role does chivalry play in the romantic encounters depicted in "Obviously," in which Joe experiences unrequited love for his fellow ticket-taker, Lila, and "Clearly," in which Adam and Eddie suffer coitus interruptus, courtesy of a fellow hiker in need?
3. How did the recurrence of many characters (such as Mike, Joe, Andrea, Helena, and Allison, for example) over the course of Adverbs deepen and complicate your understanding of their individual connections to one another?
4. To what extent is Adverbs a novel without a plot?
5. How are the mysterious, catastrophic events of the kinds described in chapters like "Frigidly," "Symbolically," and "Soundly" integral to the progress of love in all its forms in Adverbs?
6. In "Truly," a character who shares the name of the book's author, Daniel Handler, makes an appearance. How did you reconcile his presence in Adverbs?
7. "Accordingly, the magpies in this book are so furtive, so eager to avoid human persecution, that you might not have noticed them." In what contexts did you notice the many magpies that crop up in Adverbs, and what did you make of them?
8. What role does coincidence play in the relationships that develop in "Naturally," in which Eddie Terhune and Hank Hayride reunite in the park, and in "Collectively," in which everyone in the neighborhood is smitten with the anonymous resident of 1602?
9. How did the structure of this novel, with each chapter's focus on an individual adverb, affect your appreciation of the diversity of human love and behavior?
10. "Love is a story, usually a love story. The main characters are what matter." Of the many characters in Adverbs who experience the consequences of love, which did you find most compelling or memorable, and why?
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.