We Are Pirates

We Are Pirates

by Daniel Handler

Handler's latest adult fiction book is a strange beast. It is written similarly to Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus and Slapstick and somehow similar to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Thematically it explores the kind of existential themes you'd expect from Palahniuk or Ellis with all of the moral ambiguity of them too.

The book has two intertwined narratives from the points of view of a middle aged radio producer, Phil, and his directionless daughter, Gwen. Both characters work through their own ennui and moral shortcomings to arrive at a slightly ambiguous and strangely saccharine lessons about reality and family.

The biggest concerns I have with the book is the female characters. The mother is a shew, Levine is a slutty and incompetent manic pixie dream girl, Gwen is beyond naivete to the point of holding bizarre beliefs about radio, reality, life and morality that collapse under the lightest of analysis. Naomi also feels cliched in her closeted homosexuality and obsession with rebellion and teenage angst.

In fact the male characters are all pretty cliched also. From the nebbish Phil, to the starry-eyed innocent love-struck teen Cody. The entire book seems to be stock cardboard characters.

While there was a kind of charming anachronistic gothic/victorian feel to Handler's work as Lemony Snicket, in We Are Pirates it feels a bit stilted. Especially with the kind of Vonnegut-type language acting like the story is being told from the distant future. I expected a scenario like Slapstick where the entire structure of the world alters, instead it becomes "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing", perhaps that is too strong, it may just be much ado about nothing.

That said the throwback and longing for the Romantic Age of Pirates is palatable through the book. Even the cover feels like an old adventure novel. I did enjoy the book, was surprised by the twist by the Captain near the end. But the other "twists" were so expected and obvious that their reveals often made me think, "ok, I knew that already".

On Goodreads.


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