I blame us. Yes, many of us have loved the black humor of A Series of Unfortunate Events (or at least bought one for a 9-year-old). But somehow we didn’t give Lemony Snicket (né Daniel Handler) enough adoration. How else to explain this feverishly overcomplicated attempt to impress us?

Handler’s third work of adult fiction (though the first since he began tormenting the Baudelaire orphans), Adverbs is, at its simplest, about love. Love as a noun is too static, and it’s already been verbed to exhaustion, so Handler takes on the tricky task of tackling love as adverbs. ”Briefly” is a snapshot of a boy’s first gay crush. ”Collectively” tracks an entire neighborhood’s affection for a bemused homeowner. And the exemplary ”Soundly” dawns on one of the last days between a woman and her dying friend.

Handler links his stories with recurring characters, images of money and magpies, and a volcano threatening to devastate San Francisco. Just when we’re good and lost, Handler bails out in an aside on what matters: ”It is not the diamonds or the birds, the people or the potatoes; it is not any of the nouns. The miracle is the adverbs, the way things are done.” If none of these things matter, why spend so much time confounding us with them? As far back as ”See Jack run,” we’ve known that life and love aren’t about the adverbs. Without nouns, you don’t have jack.

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