Parents who want to introduce their children to the fiction of Lemony Snicket, Daniel Handler's pen name, should avoid this book, which is a clumsy and tasteless effort at writing a novel for adults.
Handler's tastelessness popped up in public at the National Book Awards ceremony in November when, as emcee of the usually tasteful event, he made some stupid racial comments, remarks he later called "ill-conceived attempts at humor."
Maybe he also had "We Are Pirates" in mind. The novel is about two 14-year-old girls and their adventures as erstwhile pirates in 21st-century San Francisco. Gwen and Amber are smart-alecky kids who have taken to heart the classical pirate fiction such as "Captain Blood" (what kid reads that dusty potboiler these days?) and sketch out a life of crime on the high seas.
Handler seems comfortable writing in the voice of the adolescent but has a tin ear when he inhabits the character of Phil, Gwen's father. Phil is a stumbling radio station producer who hopes a phony documentary about 1930s blues legend Belly Jefferson (another ill-conceived idea) will lead to success. It's his way of being a "pirate," too, he thinks, but while faking interviews might be "outlaw," it's a surefire route to failure.
The young pirates shanghai a senile senior citizen from a nursing home to be their captain and add a hapless boy to their crew. Tossing around such words as "verily" and "wench," they hijack a shabby boat rigged as a pirate ship for entertainment and lurch into San Francisco Bay. Of course, their parents have no idea what their children are up to.
Phil is on his own trip with a young woman assistant at a producers' confab in Los Angeles; Gwen's mother spends her days holed up in her painting studio; Amber's parents are nowhere to be found.
Aside from Handler's occasionally droll jokes, "We Are Pirates" is a soulless voyage to nowhere, punctuated by vicious acts of violence that are disturbing for their inappropriateness in this otherwise innocent tale. Even more disturbing is how Handler tosses them off. There are no consequences.
It seems that the author realized that his novel had no weight, so he added an element of shock to wake his readers up, then returned to his unoriginal story.
Handler never tightly connects the twin strands of Gwen and Phil on their swashbuckling travels of "rebellion" until they're safely home in port, their adventures soon forgotten.
Bob Hoover is the retired book editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.