Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a book where describing what happened kind of misses the point, because it's not really about that. But, I've gotta start somewhere, so ... it's written as an angry, passionate, heart-broken and heart-breaking letter, from Minerva Green, a quirky off-beat cinephile and high school junior, to her former boyfriend, king jock and jerk, senior Ed Slaterton. The letter accompanies a box, filled with "the prizes and debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb." The first items are two bottlecaps from the Scarpia's Bitter Ale they shared at Min's friend Al's bitter sixteen birthday party (that's the kind of quirksters they are). A relationship that begins with a beverage named after one of the all-time creepiest opera villains might portend problems, but Min and Ed's relationship ignites with improbable incandesence. Until suddenly, one day, it dramatically doesn't any more, and Min is left sorting through the souvenirs, trying to make sense out of what happened. There are many wonderful things about this book ... it captures and conveys so lyrically and intensely the thoughts and feelings of falling crazily and inappropriately and overwhelmingly in love with a completely unsuitable partner. But two things really stood out for me: the beautiful and dizzying language with which Min tells their story; and the world that the author creates, one that is so close to ours, but just slightly askew. There are no Starbucks - there are coffee shops like Leopardi's, In the Cups and Federico's. There are revival movie houses like the Carnelian, which show a series of fascinating, if fictitious, films of mystery, poetry and wonder. There's a Boris Vian Park (is there a less likely candidate for civic recognition than the author of I Spit on Your Grave?), where it really does seem possible that a unicorn might materialize at twilight or dawn, or the hazy boundary between them. There's no facebook, video games or cell phones to distract our characters from engaging directly with each other. Sometimes, there's an almost hallucinatory, surreal quality to the prose - the scenes of Ed's bonfire and the Halloween party are really extraordinary and almost disturbing. And at other times, the luminous and lyrical descriptions of Ed and Min's times together are so tenderly and emotionally conveyed and impactful that it's easy to get caught up in their improbable experience. This really seems more like an extended poem than prose, and it's a beautiful reading experience. Min is a special girl, to the point where the final few pages (especially her self-scathing soliloquy) are particularly painful. Her story will stay with you long after you close the covers of this lovely and beautifully illustrated book. And speaking of the "story," this is not just an extended improvisation of linguistic loveliness, it's a compelling story that draws you in and unfolds with twists, suprises, and all the narrative goodness and power that a major book provides. So, it's got fantastic magical language, awesome characters (even Ed, as flawed and frustrating as he is, is fully realized and not without his appeal) and a gripping story. Definitely worth investing your precious reading time!
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