AT LAST CHECK--BACK IN EARLY SEPTEMBER--DANIEL Handler's first child still had a distinct chance of being born on Halloween. This is no publicity stunt, as many of the author's fanatical young fans will probably assume, but grant them this: The coincidence is almost too delicious to be true.
Better known by the pen name Lemony Snicket, Handler is the creator of A Series of Unfortunate Events, a widely loved set of spooky children's books whose tenth installment, The Slippery Slope, has just been published. A running story about three orphans who must continually fend off the treachery of a loathsome villain named Count Olaf, the Snicket books are a full-fledged literary phenomenon. They've sold thirteen million copies around the globe. A movie starring Jim Carrey as Olaf is in the works, and Handler's readings are routinely packed with squealing children eager to meet his alter ego, Snicker, who never, somehow, manages to show up. At the beginning of each event, Handler calmly explains that the elusive Snicket won't be able to make it due to some unforeseen disaster, and that he has been sent merely to deliver the bad news.
If his fans think the imminent birth of his baby is the same sort of stunt, so be it, Handler says, watching the fog roll in over Golden Gate Park from the second floor of his elegant San Francisco home. The baby will be milking its parents in more ways than one, he figures, so he and his wife, Lisa Brown, should be entitled to milk the child a tad.
Handler is just as unsparing toward the children in his books. The three Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, have been kidnapped, attacked by a swarm of gnats and, in the case of toddler Sunny, forced to prepare gourmet meals from scraps for their captors--and all of that in the new book alone. The stories don't end happily, and their bleak humor has won the author comparisons with Roald Dahl and the Brothers Grimm.
But for someone so accustomed to abusing fictional youngsters, Handler claims to have no qualms about his impending fatherhood. "I suppose I put some stock in the notion that it's perverse to bring a child into a world that's so rife with turmoil," he says. "But my parents did it to me, so I sort of feel like I'm owed." He laughs.
According to Handier, contemporary parents cling to contradictory ideas: They want their children to believe everything will always be hunky-dory, yet they secretly fear the worst, "thinking," he suggests, "that at any moment terrorists could surround the summer camp." He feels the reality of childhood lies somewhere between the two extremes, and says the idea that children's books should be cheerful and uplifting is relatively new.
As it happens, the author's own childhood, spent here in San Francisco, was almost entirely devoid of crisis. No Hostile Hospitals (book 8); no Carnivorous Carnivals (book 9); no Nosferatu-like kidnappers with hook-handed henchmen. "There weren't any terrible things," recalls his mother, Sandra Handler, chatting over a cup of coffee in the same breakfast nook where, she says, young Daniel once gazed distractedly out the window. He rode his bike around the neighborhood. He took piano lessons, later picking up the accordion and the tuba. In high school, he found he had a flair for the dramatic and took roles in productions of Harvey and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
And yet his parents did recognize that their son was different from other children, perhaps a bit eccentric in comparison. "From early on," his mother says, "he was keyed into the absurdity of life." On the soccer field, he'd become engrossed in a flower or a bug in the grass, stooping to examine it while the ball skittered by. And when Daniel read in bed, his father, Louis, remembers, "if a book had a syrupy ending, he'd toss it aside. It drove him crazy."
That distaste for the predictable has borne itself out repeatedly in the Snicket books. "Fate," he muses in The Slippery Slope, "is like a strange, unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like." Thus far, though, Handler's own fate seems to have led only to blissful things: a dose-knit family, a happy marriage and a lucrative writing career. He and his wife, a graphic designer, recently moved into their roomy, art-stuffed Victorian, restored as a single-family home after some years divided into two apartments. As a result, it's upside down: The master bedroom is just inside the front door, and the kitchen is upstairs.
The odd configuration matches Handler's odd outlook, but the house's soft light and inviting colors come as a surprise. "I think some people expect me to be a little spookier than I am," he acknowledges. Still, though, he doesn't imagine that becoming a father will change the angle of his lopsided worldview much. "Falling in love and getting married didn't turn me into a softie," he says. "And I have several inspiring friends who are parents who have remained their own bitter and cynical selves despite adorable tykes running around the home." He laughs again. "Actually, there's a local bar that allows infants. If worse comes to worst, if I feel an onset of cutesiness, I can take the bassinet down the hill and have a few gimlets."
Source Citation:Sullivan, James. "He's having a baby: this Halloween, after four years of torturing children, superstar author Lemony Snicket is getting exactly what he deserves.(Critical Essay)." Book 31 (Nov-Dec 2003): 52(2). Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 20 Oct. 2009
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