Daniel Handler has made his name under a penname first and foremost – his Lemony Snicket books are not the only string to his bow though, and under his own (real) name he has released a handful of (adult) novels. The latest, All The Dirty Parts, is a novel told in vignettes – the Dirty Parts (only) – this is not a love story, nor a set of love stories, this is lust and sex and masturbation, this is a YA novel for adults – this is the story, or stories, of Cole. He’s not quite (and only) hetero, gay or bi – what he is is horny. Big-time horny. And through hearing about his solo masturbation, and how that moves to include his best friend, indirectly – and then about as directly as is possible – we get to the bits that are broken, lost, looming, forgotten and forlorn.
Sex is at Cole’s fingertips – his phone and computer give him all the sexual engagement he thinks he needs. Handler’s handling of this is to essentially make a Portnoy’s Complaint for the social media-raised generation of porn-all-the-time adolescents who don’t seem to be complaining.
The writing is skilful, erotic – and comes with the whiff of desperation and failings.
The bits we don’t see, the white spaces on each page around the paragraphs of text, start to speak louder and more frequently as the story progresses. Cole is alone and lonely and his sex-life reflects – and promulgates – that.
All The Dirty Parts is a breeze to read – a slim volume that, erm, pulls you in right away. It holds you too. Firm grasp. Etc. But there’s nothing snide, sinister or smug about this book nor its writing. There’s a deep humanity here that belies the “easy read” nature of this novella-length piece. Its subtitle – telling you it is most definitely a novel – is a strong argument for the depth on offer here. There’s heart and thought, careful scrutiny and observation, a deep understanding in fact. That’s Handler’s great skill here.
The sadness that lingers long after you finish this version of a coming-of-age story is potent, so powerful.