Two of the books I read during my enforced absence from the internet (see November 28) were the first two entries in the Lemony Snicket collection, A Series of Unfortunate Events. I had a vague memory of hearing about these books but had no idea what they were about except that adoption was involved. I’m not a huge fan of adoption fiction since most adoption-related novels (outside of classics) in my experience are boring, stupid, trivial, tiresome, happy-dappy, or just plain wrong. Just how difficult would it be for authors to research for more than 10 minutes on how adoption works? Edward Albee is my huge exception, but then he was one of us, and as a young man was part of Jean Paton’s research project. He was a Class A Adoptee Snark. I actually came to understand adoption more from his Big 4 (The American Dream, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? A Delicate Balance, Three Tall Women–there are also minor adoption plays–I especially like The Zoo Story) than from any adoption “expert.” Let me take a moment to put a plug in for Imagining Adoption: Essays on Literature and Culture edited by Marianne Novy.
Anyway, one of the first things I did upon arriving at the Airbnb was to peruse the bookshelves. I’d brought a book with me, but I can’t resist snooping at other people’s books There were several I considered reading: Lord Jim, Of Human Bondage, The Scarlet Letter, The History of the Corpus Christi Fire Department. Then I happened upon a neat little volume: The Reptile Room. The title alone grabbed me. I read the back cover and knew I’d made my choice. But wait! There was another book with it, The Bad Beginning. Who can resist:
I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.
So I took the books off to my bedroom; forswearing for a while, the book I brought with me, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, a book I highly recommend.
Oh my! Where was Lemony Snicket when I was a kid? I went straight from Little Brown Bear and the Bobbsey Twins (really!) to bios of Alexander the Great, Henry Gregor Felsen’s hotrod books, and Harrison High.
Now, since the Airbnb books aren’t mine, I don’t have them with me, so I don’t intend to try to review them. Besides, I’m a poor book reviewer.
But again, Oh my! I have to say a few words.
These books are every adoptee’s nightmare. Even if you’re not adopted, but fear your parents might “perish” as the Baudelaire parents did, (what really happened and why and did they really?) and you’ll be sent someplace awful with an awful guardian, then as narrator Snicket warns:
…put[ting] this book down at once and readi[ng] something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.
For those of you who believe that children are better off being sent to family members if bio parents are deceased or no longer able to care for them, beware of what you ask for. Mr. and Mrs. Baudliare, loving sensible parents of great wealth and education, felt the same way. What this means is that their children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny (a sharp-toothed infant whose main entertainment is biting ) are shipped across town to the genetically distant but geographically close relative Count Olaf, who lives in a ramshackle house in an otherwise “good neighborhood.” Count Olaf is very Dicksonian. He tosses the children into a 1-bed filthy room with a refrigerator box for a closet. He wipes his nose on their drapes. He dresses weird, drab, and ugly. He sports a tattoo of an eye on his ankle. His actual eyes are oddly shiny. Count Olaf is a theatre person–a master of disguise–with a troupe of creepy actors who do his dirty work and put on bad plays at night. He doesn’t own any books, even a cookbook, which causes a problem when he orders the children to prepare a large roast beef dinner for his actors. “I want roast beef!” By the end of the first volume Count, Olaf, after an attempt to stage a fraudulent marriage to Violet, age 14, in order to acquire the vast Baualiare fortune, has escaped the long arm of Mr. Poe, the banker, left in charge of the children’s disposition, and the law, but not for long.
The Reptile Room picks up where the fake wedding ends, For a short time, it looks like the Baudliares have found a happy home with their uncle Montgomery Montgomery aka Uncle Monty, a world-famous herpetologist with a world-class collection of snakes and lizards, including Sunny’s playmate, the Incredibly Deadly Viper. But happiness does not last long, of course, since the Baudelaire children are bound for misery, Count Olaf may be gone from Book 1, but he’s not forgotten the children or their money, and well…poor Monty! Poor children! Off they go again to begin badly…
But they are very smart, very clever, very inventive, ever watchful, and they love each other. Violet sums up their situation quite well in The Grim Grotto., which I’ve not yet read but found in my research for this blog), “We didn’t lose our family. Only our parents.”
Unfortunate Events is Snidley Whiplash delicious. I suppose serious adoptees would be horrified.
I want to read the rest of the 13 books in the series, which include the titles The Miserable Mill, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, and The Carnivorous Carnival. Life for orphans is perilous and unhappy. I will go the library route rather than purchase them. since they are short easy reads. There’s also the movie. I plan to watch it, but I have a severe aversion to its star, Jim Carey. I understand he gives a superb “balanced” performance, though, as Count Olaf, so that aversion will be OK. There is also a Netflix series I should find.
Fortuitously, yesterday after I returned home, it was brought to my attention that on Tuesday, December 7, the Kansas City Public Library (Waldo Branch) is holding an online event: Poison for Breakfast:
Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, discusses his new stand-alone, all ages book, Poison for Breakfast. Unlike the 13 volumes in the Series of Unfortunate Events that made Lemony Snicket a household name, Poison for Breakfast has a philosophical bent as well as one of mystery.Longtime fans will relish Handler’s distinctive voice and trademark cleverness in this author talk as well as in the new book. Handler takes readers on a journey through the bewilderment arising from a note under his door: “You had poison for breakfast.”
Day 29 of 30–
1 to go