Review: Adverbs

I’m probably a somewhat unusual Daniel Handler fan.  I fell in love with his writing in The Basic Eight, not his more lucrative children’s literature. I haven’t picked anything of his up for a while, but Adverbs finally bubbled to the top of my queue.

Adverbs is kind of an experimental piece of work. It’s constructed as a series of vignettes circling around similar, but maybe not identical, characters who are all confronting love, catastrophe, taxis, and pop music to varying degrees.  The book is definitely an odd reading experience. Each vignette is thematically connected and written in a similar style, but the particulars are mostly echoes and allusions rather than a sustained narrative.  Each succeeding interlude subtly changes the players, focus, and stakes without changing tone and style.  The whole thing feels rather dreamlike.

If you’re a long time reader of the Legion of Super-Heroes, this is a recognizable feeling.  That franchise of DC Comics has been restarted and its most popular tales retold many times.  Each restart and retelling comes from different continuity and features different interpretations of its sizeable cast. Each vignette in Adverbs feels like a rebooted continuity from comics. The reader can see how it all relates, but a lot of the fun is seeing what’s different.

It helps enormously that Handler turns a brilliant phrase and is a keen observer of people.  Adverbs doesn’t follow characters through a conventional growth arc and hit the reader with emotional revelations.  Handler can break your heart with a one-line simile though, and he does.

Overall, it reads a little like Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish in that simple forms give way to powerful drama.  Adverbs never builds on itself the way Love does, though, so it remains an interesting diversion more than a literary event.



Comments are closed.