three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-AdverbsSixteen linked stories, each titled with an adverb, explore love’s complicated permutations. "Wrongly" features a graduate student inexplicably drawn to a colleague who’s already treated her badly. In "Immediately," a man falls in love with his homophobic cabdriver, and in "Briefly," a teenager’s crush on his sister’s boyfriend haunts him throughout life. Love occupies the thoughts and actions of the gay and straight, the young and old, the normal and dysfunctional, and even a ghost—and it almost always hurts after the wonder ends. "Love is this sudden crash in your path," Handler writes, "quick and to the point, and nearly always it leaves someone slain on the green."
Ecco. 272 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0060724412

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Like a musical composition, these stories are connected by leitmotifs: taxicabs are a recurring image, as are volcanoes, and, of all things, magpies, ‘attractive, artful and aggressive’ birds that represent the irresistibility and danger of love. … Handler creates several female characters who are mordant, sardonic and funny—but in almost exactly the same way, so that when one reappeared in a new story, I found myself thumbing backward to see if she was the same sad, sarcastic woman I’d encountered before." James Poniewozik

Charlotte Observer 3 of 5 Stars
"Handler’s voice is sometimes wry, sometimes funny, sometimes oddly moving, but other times simply odd. Although he oozes wit and he’s an astute social observer, that voice can feel intrusive in spots, coming between the reader and the story." Mary Newsom

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[Adverbs] 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. … Nonetheless, this kind of serious playfulness ought to be encouraged." Donna Rifkind

San Antonio Express News 3 of 5 Stars
"[Each] chapter just carries on the story of whomever it is about, then ends, and a seemingly unrelated (save for a few in-jokes that recur throughout the novel) tale is spread forth about someone else. … If the love stories have one uniting thread, it is the seeming irrationality that draws people together, and how a similar force pulls them apart." Adam Schragin

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Choose your favorite metaphor and follow its career, or shop around for what seems to fit at the time: Daniel Handler has written a book that doesn’t just invite readerly contributions, it demands them. … For all their quirks and passions, these characters feel like structuralist abstractions, paper cutouts with repeated names marched through their paces to satisfy authorial whim." Jesse Berrett

Atlanta Jrnl-Constitution 2 of 5 Stars
"Verdict: Frankly, disappointing. … Apparently, Handler wants this to be sort of like an old Robert Altman movie, ‘Nashville’ by way of San Francisco, everything linking with everything else, with the addition of little blasts of magical realism, a volcano, a ghost, visits from God and the author himself. Actually, it gets pretty tiresome as a conceit." Phil Kloer

Rocky Mountain News 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Handler includes clever social commentaries throughout the book, and his many pop culture references—obscure, funny, hip—will bring to mind something of a cross between Dennis Miller and Nick Hornby. … As it stands, we can call Handler’s latest a series of unfortunate decisions." Gary Williams

Critical Summary

Daniel Handler, author of the best-selling A Series of Unfortunate Events, captures the intricacies of love—though not necessarily its emotional resonance—in his newest book. Set mostly in a colorful near-future San Francisco that may (or may not) succumb to terrorism or volcanic eruptions, the stories feature Handler’s trademark wordplays, ironic humor, and visceral descriptions. While critics praised the magical writing, most expressed confusion over the book’s structure. Do the Davids and Andreas that appear in the stories simply share the same name, or are they discrete characters? If the latter, why do they sound alike? While each story entertains and offers a lesson of sorts on love, together the stories fail to coalesce into a larger narrative.