Friday, October 13, 2006


THE END by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist (Hyperion)

In honor of Friday the 13th, we are celebrating the 13th and last volume of Lemony Snicket's dreadfully successful set, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, tapping into the dark and gloomy impluses of children for years, improving their vocabularies and training them for this terrible and fated day: the release of the finale.

There is a long, clichéd history of unlucky orphaned children in the genre of children's literature, and the best of it, like the work of Roald Dahl or Charles Dickens, goes soaring over the top. The hyperbole of misery in children's books actually keeps such books from being too miserable; children widely recognize how unlikely it is that one's parents will be eaten by a rhinoceros, for example, or that they will be forced into a life of pick-pocketing, or that an evil tatooed imposter will try to try to take your sister as a child-bride for her money. That is why I am a fan of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. It reads to me as a parody, less of children's worst fears than that of their parents'. The element of being orphaned, though terrifying in reality, in print form allows children to play out vicariously a sense of responsibility for one's destiny, and all the possibility and problem-solving and unadulterated freedom that comes along with it, for better or these books, it happens to be for worse. In the case of A Series of Unfortunate Events, that which does not kill the reader, I suppose, makes him or her stronger, and it seems only the characters are due to have their cords cut.

So of course the books are popular. The misadventures are funny, scary, inappropriate, dastardly, naughty, crazy, page-turning, cliffhanging delights. If the Freudian "id" had a library card, it would check out A Series of Unfortunate Events. And yes, I am a fan, even if in THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR, he did happen to give his most evil female character my name. My perfectly good name. Huh. Am I supposed to consider that just another 'unfortunate event'? Snicket better watch his back.

Read my abridged comments and the comments of many others about the approach of the last book in A Series of Unfortunate Events in "Friday the 13th Closes the Book on Lemony Snicket " in USA TODAY, which will serve as Friday's Book-A-Day. When it comes to Lemony Snicket, I'd say, happy reading! Except it doesn't exactly apply.

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