667 Reviews: We Are Pirates Mar 1, 2015 16:12:16 GMT -5 Cafe SalMONAlla, Stay-at-homet, and 1 more like this
Post by Dante on Mar 1, 2015 16:12:16 GMT -5
We Are Pirates
by Daniel Handler
In certain circles, Daniel Handler’s We Are Pirates is a novel almost as legendary as its subject matter. His “pirate novel” is the great unwritten project of years, said to have been in the works for over a decade and only now finally published. We Are Pirates is, like much of Handler’s “adult” output (which is to say, those definitely not children’s books), a tale of social breakdown in modern America, in which that schism takes the form of a surreal and even fantastical interruption into the fabric of twenty-first century life. But it’s also a metaphor for how we live our lives, although you don’t need to worry about that until the end. As the novel suggests, though, it’s the end you should have your eye on, or your plans will be sunk.
Our protagonists, who we’ll carefully avoid calling heroes, are father and daughter Phil and Gwen Needle, who like many fathers and their adolescent children are an ocean away from understanding each other, though both suffer the same feeling of being marooned in a world too fiercely real, and too unreally hollow, for them to live in. It’s Gwen, young and radical, a horizon full of possibilities ahead of her, who dominates the subsequent plot and piratical theme. Roped into caring for an Alzheimer’s patient, she’s drawn into the nineteenth-century pirate fiction he shares; the romance and independence it promises prove, to her eclectic group of associates stifled by the drudgery and ennui of their existence, a treasure too enchanting to be resisted – to the reader, too, drawn along in their wake. Phil’s story is an adult’s comedy of errors in a very real world with which he and his colleagues are hopelessly out of touch, but he, in his own way, is also a pirate, in quest of a romance all too briefly glimpsed in a sordid world.
Sudden but inevitable violence, subplots that reach a denouement before they meet each other, and an ambiguous ending, as much for the characters’ happiness as for their morals, make up the second act of a novel that’s funny, strange, and poetic in a way only Daniel Handler can write. We Are Pirates doesn’t wholly condemn reality any more than it wholly endorses piracy; the latter is an impossible dream, and there is value to be retrieved from the former, too. But, for a time, we can experience the vicarious pleasure of the ultimate escape from modern life through Handler’s writing, in a tale of friendship and invention, adventure and tragedy wrapped up in a handsome embossed cover wrapped up in turn in a boldly-coloured half-dustjacket. And although Handler’s work often expresses a deep ambivalence about the world, he nonetheless finds two certainties in it: That there is, ultimately, no escaping this world, but also that there are still treasures in it, with literature first among them. Just try to acquire them legitimately.