We Are Pirates Review

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

That’s it. I’m never reading a sad book again.

I don’t know how people do it. How do you all read literary classics and modern mainstream novels, and enjoy them? How do you read them one after another? I mean, John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors, but how do you go from Of Mice and Men to The Grapes of Wrath without reading, say, The Hobbit in between? I can’t do that. I’ve tried for years, I have a degree in literature, I’m an English teacher, I’m a book reader and reviewer, and an author: I know that there is a certain prestige that attaches to the great novels, and almost every one of them is sad, is tragic. But I just can’t do it any more.

I got this book because I loved the Lemony Snickett books, and because I love pirates. Stupid, I know; but why not? The Series of Unfortunate Events (Also sad — I’m aware that I should have paid more attention to the very obvious clues) was genuinely well written, and pirates are not only fun (But also sad: because the average lifespan for a Caribbean pirate was about two years, before they died of disease, alcoholism, or a “short drop followed by a sudden stop.” Like I said: many clues.) but also fascinating, because they represent savagery, and also egalitarianism, among other things. Escape, and rebellion, and a final middle finger to a cruel world.

This book was exactly that. Daniel Handler captured not only the world of the pirate, the anger, the pain, the fight against all conformity and thus against all society and even against humanity itself; he also captured the modern world — and thus made me long to be the pirate, even while I sorrowed for those following that path, pitied them their rage and their pain. And I raged against those who tried to contain the pirates; and then I felt their pain, as well. Because as Handler points out, with the title and with the entire book: we ARE pirates. We all are. We are.

The book is good, damn good, maybe even brilliant; I just finished it minutes ago and maybe don’t have the perspective to really grasp all of its insights and nuances. But I laughed at passages, I recognized people, I loved and hated and felt contempt and pity for the characters and their lives. It’s written the way a book should be written, and it’s about a great subject — not only pirates, but also family and children and growing up and careers and ambitions and dreams and, of course, disappointments. It’s got a wonderful twist at the end, which changes your understanding of things; more than one, actually. It is multi-layered and complicated, but nonetheless still easy to read, and it has some beautiful flourishes and original creations. This is a very impressive piece of work.

And it’s sad. And I’m done.

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