There are good books and great books. And then there are books like Daniel Handler's Adverbs. Reading it feels like calling in sick when you don't feel sick so you can curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and a fluffy blanket and watch the rain fall. It's a Bloody Mary for the hung-over heart. I have such a crush on this book.

You might know Handler better as his alter ego, children's book author Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events). He's written two other grown-up novels, The Basic Eight and Watch Your Mouth. And now, as if that weren't enough, with his third adult book he proves himself a master of the love story. Adverbs is a collection of 16 interlinking stories built around the ways in which people love each other: soundly, obviously, naturally, often, etc. The book begins, as love often does, with the immediate, the obvious and the brief, moving quickly toward cold and complicated before winding up at barely and judgmentally.

Some of the stories are sadder than yours, and some are incandescently happy, and almost all of them are hilarious in places. The same characters or at least the same names show up in several stories at different ages, and key phrases or elements keep kaleidoscoping through the collection, giving the whole thing a disorienting, dizzy-in-love kind of feel. Is the Lila who's desperately ill in "Soundly" the same eye-rolling Lila who tears tickets at the theater in "Obviously"? Is Andrea at the bar also Andrea the ex-girlfriend and Andrea the cab driver? And just how many Joes and Hanks are in this book, anyway? You soon figure out it doesn't matter. It's not who loves, it's how they love that counts.

Trying to pinpoint the nature of love leads to some of the author's best observations. In "Frigidly," he writes, "When love appears it's a supernatural thing like the songs say, but eventually you have to get out of bed, even on the coldest of days, and pay the rent." That sums it up almost perfectly.

Becky Ohlsen writes infatuatedly from Portland, Oregon.

 

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