Daniel Handler on 9-11 and Love
Some people can say a whole lot in a small space. Here is Dan Handler, author of ADVERBS, my favorite book of the year.
Yours is the first novel I’ve read that seems to capture the post 9-11 American psyche. I’m not talking about the post-traumatic responses of survivors, but the more subtle shift in the way the general population thinks about trust, safety, relationships, the future. I wonder if you could talk about that, either from a personal point of view or from what you created with your characters.
A Manhattanite friend of mine e-mailed me shortly after 9/11 and said, “I’m safe. I got a ride out of downtown from a co-worker I’ve always disliked and reserve the right to dislike later, but we cried together all the way.” Enormous catastrophes do remind us what is truly important, and force the everyday frustrations and despairs into the background – but they can’t stay in the background forever. The shadow of 9-11 – and subsequent disasters, like Katrina – puts the cognitive dissonance between what should occupy us – staying close to one’s family, say, or finding a good person to love – and what does occupy us – annoying habits, tiny heartbreaks – into even sharper relief. To put it another way, in a turbulent world all that matters is finding people to love. But would it kill them to brush their teeth first?
They say love is in the details, that it’s the little things that make a person special, but then why are the love songs so alike? It’s your smile, it’s your eyes, I love your eyes and your smile. I like to go to the beach with you, but really the beach is so interesting and pretty that you could take anyone to the beach. (ADVERBS, p. 106)
ADVERBS is about many things but in the end, it’s a book about love. Could you give me your definition of love as it pertains to marriage?
Believing that a familiar person in her ugliest shirt muttering something you’ve heard a million times before is more wondrous to behold than an impeccably costumed stranger saying something new.
As it pertains to parenthood?
Finding genuine interest in a conversation consisting largely of the sentence “Big garbage truck take garbage away.”
And as it pertains to reading and writing?
Regarding the shuffle of sentences as more vital than the shuffle outside one’s window.
You love once and then maybe not again. Not on a day like this. The rain, the rain, the rain. You can’t even hear it outside the window but still it’s a sad thing. Rain, the grade school teachers say, makes the trees and flowers grow, but we’re not trees and flowers, and so many grade school teachers are single. (ADVERBS, p. 77)
If you want to catch Dan’s alter ego, click here for the Lemony Snicket interview on LitPark.