Daniel Handler: not a fan of ‘realism’


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Between Daniel Handler and his alter ego, Lemony Snicket, it’s hard to tell exactly how many books he’s written. There are 13 in the A Series of Unfortunate Events, other books in the Lemony Snicket world, three for adults and even one he penned for McSweeney’s -- ‘How to Dress for Every Occasion’ -- as if he were the pope.

Fans of his work will probably not be surprised to find that he’s not a big proponent of realism. ‘Nabokov famously said that ‘reality’ is the only word in the English language that only makes sense with quotes around it,’ he tells the website Bookslut in an interview.


So much of supposed realism actually traffics in the stalest of narrative clichés -- plot devices that feel lifted from the cheapest of dramas. I don’t mind narrative clichés -- how could I, given my work? -- but it drives me nuts when it’s called realism. I was just reading reviews of Richard Price’s most recent novel, which I enjoyed very much, and one by one the critics called the dialog realistic, when it’s clearly the result of careful styling. Realistic dialog would have all sorts of hemming and hawing and redundancies. Just about every line of dialog in Adverbs is something I overheard, but of course I shaped it and recontextualized it. I suppose one could make a case for calling that realism.

In our review of Price’s book (‘Lush Life’), David L. Ulin described the dialogue as ‘razor sharp’ -- I think Handler might approve. Read his complete interview here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg