An eyeful of awfulness

12th Lemony Snicket offers unfair share of misery

If you have avoided Lemony Snicket’s saga of the three Baudelaire orphans, the publication Tuesday of the 12th volume was the perfect opportunity to avoid it again.

After all, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is a relentlessly miserable account of hardships and tragedies. As Snicket himself said of a previous installment, “There are many pleasant things to read about, but this book contains none of them.”

In the 11 books of their story so far, Violet, Klaus and Sunny have encountered: itchy clothing, the Deluxe Cell, a deadly serpent, cold cucumber soup, a giant pincher machine, dripping fungus, parsley soda, unnecessary surgery, a confusing map and a swarm of snow gnats. In their most recent adventure, The Grim Grotto, they came face to face with the unbearably bratty Carmelita Spats, who exclaimed, “You’re just jealous of me because I’m a tap-dancing ballerina fairy princess veterinarian!”

Really, it makes no sense to invite anguishing images into your life. What reasons could possibly tempt you?

¢ Perhaps you became intrigued last year by the Jim Carrey movie “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

This movie was unfortunate indeed because, despite excellent performances by the children in the cast, it was nowhere near as direly engaging and grimly hilarious as the books. Why cast Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine but not let her say this line about her late husband: “Ike always loved the sunshine, and I like to imagine that wherever he is now, it’s as sunny as can be. Of course, nobody knows what happens to you after you die, but it’s nice to think of my husband someplace very, very hot.”

Author Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, is shown in a card reader booth at Cafe Flore in San Francisco. The 12th installment of his children's book series, A

¢ Perhaps your own life is full of the kind of misery that loves company and you are hoping the Baudelaires’ tale will yield some helpful advice, such as: “If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats.”

¢ Perhaps you are hoping to discover the meaning of a recurring eye symbol or “V.F.D.,” which seems to have something to do with the terrible fire that plunged the orphans into their odyssey, although it has also been connected with the Valley of Four Drafts or Very Fancy Doilies.

¢ Perhaps you want to see what new words baby Sunny has learned. Her siblings have had to translate her occasional babbled injections, such as “Sappho!” which means “I’d be very pleased to hear a poem of yours!” and “Unfeasi!” which means “To make a hot meal without any electricity, I’d need a fire, and expecting a baby to start a fire all by herself on top of a snowy mountain is cruelly impossible and impossibly cruel,” and “Bikayado,” which means “What new evil plan have you cooked up to steal our fortune?”

¢ Perhaps you have children who watch too much TV, and you would like to read about children who are literate, a word which here means “capable of enjoying a story that exults in wordplay, vocabulary and wit.” This series, of course, is not suitable reading for children (though millions of them do seem to find a perverse enjoyment of the books).

¢ Perhaps you want to be “in.” Count Olaf’s companion, Esme Squalor, is constantly announcing items that are in, such as Cafe Salmonella and aqueous martinis.

¢ Maybe you have nagging questions about strangely resonant details, such as the patients in Heimlich Hospital, who included Emma Bovary (food poisoning) and Clarissa Dalloway (“who did not seem to have anything wrong with her but was staring sadly out the window of Room 1308”).

¢ Or, most likely of all, maybe you want to make sure you’re up to date with the doings of this 12th volume – there are to be only 13 installments, and when the final one appears, you won’t want to be the only fan left out of the foofaraw.

That wouldn’t be very “in.”