Sunday, October 15, 2006

35. The Unauthorized Autobiography

by Lemony Snicket (and Daniel Handler)

I think one of the most joyful moments in a reader’s life, at least a reader that does not have much disposable income, is when you’re on the verge of paying full price for a book you’ve wanted to read for a while and decide to pop into a used bookstore first, just in case they have it. And they do. And it’s in great condition. I always feel a little victorious when that happens.

I had been waiting to read Lemony Snicket’s Unauthorized Autobiography for a while because it’s a companion volume and I didn’t think it would have much to do with the story itself. When I recently read reviews that said it held some secrets to the Baudelaire’s story, I decided I needed to read it before The End came out. Just as I was about to buy it at Borders (my usual independent didn’t have it in stock; I don’t usually shop at Borders) I took a walk through Bookworks on Clark and lo and behold, there it was. Right place, right time, and right price. It doesn’t usually take me more than a couple days to get through a Snicket book, so I had plenty of time to read this last week before The End came out on Friday. I’m not sure when the Autobiography was published in relation to the other books in the series, so it may be that I already knew about the “secrets” in the book or it may be that it just wasn’t all that revealing. In any case I don’t feel like I know much more about VFD than when I started.

Here are some of the secrets in the book:

--Snicket is purported to be dead, although the obituary in The Daily Punctilio states, “no one seems to know when, where, how, and why he died.”

--VFD steal children from their parents by carrying them out of the house, by their ankles, in the middle of the night. I suppose they then convert the children to volunteers, which seems a little cultish to me and, as the cultishness is never remarked upon by the author, a little inappropriate. I know the entire series is about bad things happening to children, but Snicket usually comments on these things and there’s little thought on idea that someone could come into your home and take you away. That strikes me as kind of scary for kids.

--There’s this mysterious cursive “R” that keeps showing up as the writer of Snicket’s letters, but I can’t recall there ever being a character with a name that started with “R”. I feel like this is something I should be able to figure out.

--A VFD meeting transcript is included and the following initials are present: J, L, M, R, R, M, L, K, D, S, I. Also, O and E show up and later in the book H is mentioned. Now, O and E are clearly Olaf and Esme, and H is Hector in his self-sustaining hot air balloon apparatus. I’m guessing J is Jacques Snicket. L is Lemony. K is Kit. One M must be Dr. Mongomery, but that’s as far as I can get. If the other initials refer to characters in the past books, then there are just too many characters and it’s been too long since I’ve read the books for me to remember. (And if I and D are Isadora and Duncan Quagmire, then where's Quigley?)

--A letter from Jacques to Jerome in which Jacques implores him not to marry Esme also contains this revealing statement: “I am not really a detective, my friend. I am a member of an organization that requires its members to pretend to be various occupations, including detective, ship captain, dramatic critic, duchess, waiter, and many others. For years this organization has behaved in ways that were as noble as they were secret, but recently this organization has experienced a schism.” Okay, but what does VFD stand for and what exactly do they do?

--A letter from Jacques to Lemony contains the postscript: “The combination to the safe is a three-digit number, identical to the address of our headquarters on Dark Avenue.” If you remember from The Ersatz Elevator, the Baudelaires found a secret passageway from 667 Dark Avenue to their former home. Were all VFD members’ homes linked to the headquarters by secret underground passages?

--Esme was an actress and once starred in a play written by “Al Funcoot.” Sounds like she and Olaf were in cahoots for quite a while, which explains Jacques’s letter to Jerome.

There are more tidbits spread throughout the book and it’s cute and fun, but you know what it isn’t? Explanatory. I hoped I would find something to make some of these details click into place, but I just have more questions. I guess I’ll have to finish The End to find out if anything’s answered. There’s also the recently published Beatrice Letters, another companion volume that’s rumored to have secrets in it as well, but while my usual independent did have that in stock, I put it back because it was more expensive than I had expected. VFD or no VFD, I’ve got bills to pay so that’s going to have to be another used bookstore treasure.

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