Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, dives into the horny world of teens in 'All the Dirty Parts'

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Photo by Meredith Heuer

Cole is a sex maniac. The high-school-aged protagonist of Daniel Handler’s new novel, All the Dirty Parts, is obsessed with all things carnal: “It’s a story that keeps telling itself to me, my own crackling need in this world lit only by girls who might kiss me, like a flower, like a flytrap, the delicious sex we would have if we weren’t in this idiotic marathon of going to class.”

Twin Cities Book Festival

Minnesota State Fairgrounds
Free

After establishing “a rep” at school and exhausting the female prospects in his immediate vicinity, Cole experiments with his best friend, Alec. Then a new student arrives on the scene – the exotic, poetry-reading, sex-positive Grisaille – and Cole’s whole world is turned upside down.

Handler is an acclaimed author best known for work published under the pen name Lemony Snicket. He spoke to City Pages ahead of his appearance on Saturday at the Twin Cities Book Festival.

City Pages: What prompted you to want to write a book about teenage sexuality for adults?

Daniel Handler: I don’t know if I necessarily wrote it for adults, but what prompted me was that I had a dinner party and a friend of mine – who is a man married to a man – was talking about visiting his hometown. I said, “What do you do when you go back there?” And he said, “I like to check in with my ex-boyfriends and their wives.” And I got interested in the kind of fluid and ambiguous relationships that can happen between young men that evade the categories we generally put upon them.

CP: It’s surprising to hear you say this book isn’t necessarily for adults because there were things in this book that shocked me. Is this really young adult reading?

DH: I guess it depends on who you’re asking. If you’re asking me, I think sure, if a young adult is interested in reading a book about young sexuality, here it is. But the publisher of my work for young people had to think about if they could publish such a book for young people. They decided they couldn’t. They decided the gatekeepers of children’s culture and young adult literature would not let this into places like school libraries. Many people get really scared when young people read about sex. I guess I should have written one of those books in which teenagers are killing each other in a post-apocalyptic landscape and then no one would have had any objection to teenagers reading about that.

CP: That is an interesting double standard.

DH: Yeah. I think it’s fine for teenagers to read. I remember what I read when I was young, and some of it had sex and some of it had violence and some of it had other dangerous or exciting ideas. I think it’s fine to read about all kinds of things.

CP: How did you tap into the adolescent mindset? You must be years away from that.

DH: I’m not an adolescent. That is accurate. Through my Lemony Snicket books, I visit a lot of schools and I do a lot of eavesdropping at those schools and on public transportation and among young people I bump up against.

CP: How do you see teen sexuality as different now compared to when you came of age?

DH: I think young people have more unsupervised access to one another than when I was younger. When I was a teenager, in the 17th Century, if you wanted to talk to someone on the phone, you had to call the building where you thought they might be and then other people in that building – probably relatives of theirs – would answer the phone and you would have to gain access to the person you were interested in that way.

Now, of course, every young person has a machine in their pocket that can connect them with any young person they want, not only people they know but many strangers.

CP: Tell me about forming the female character Grisaille.

DH: The biggest challenge there was to avoid the standard narratives that are placed on a young woman who is sexually active and sexually forthright and maybe even sexually aggressive. There are a lot of really tired and offensive and painful narratives that we lazily put on such women. Mostly I just tried to think about something that wasn’t those narratives, which are offensive to me and also dull.

CP: At the end of the book, Cole realizes that he’s been treating women poorly. Do you think men outgrow that kind of behavior?

DH: [Laughs.] I guess it depends on the man. We have the oldest president of the United States we’ve ever had who is kind of a self-admitted sexual predator; he does not appear to have grown out of it yet. I hope everyone grows out of it. The longer it takes for you to grow out of it, the more harm you’ve done.

IF YOU GO:

Daniel Handler, All the Dirty Parts
Rain Stage at the Twin Cities Book Festival
1:30 p.m. Saturday, October 14
Free.


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