This is a book that I picked up on a whim at McKay’s because it was only $2 and I knew it was by the author better known as Lemony Snicket. I essentially knew absolutely nothing else about it, because rather than a synopsis or a blurb about the book on the back cover, it instead had faux tongue-in-cheek “study questions” (much like those you’d find at the end of a story or piece in a high-school/grade school reader) and praise for the novel from other writers and newspapers. In this case, I felt the type of story The Basic Eight turned out to be really benefited from being shrouded in mystery, because in a way, it was a mystery.
The book is told through a series of journal entries (more or less) written by one Flannery Culp, who is compiling them for publication. The beginning of the book is rather discombobulating, because a lot of details and people are referenced as though you, the reader, already know most of what she’s talking about. What becomes clear fairly quickly is that Flannery was embroiled in an extremely well-publicized crime in which she was convicted of murder. So, the book isn’t at all traditional in the sense that rather than wondering if Flannery will get the guy and live happily-ever-after, we instead know exactly what everything in the book must be leading up to. This really makes this book one of those that’s more about the journey then, since the real intrigue is all wrapped up in learning about the events that lead up to that fateful night and figuring out what made her do it. By and large, I was amused by this technique, although it did have its failings. Specifically, once you reach the point in the book where the murder has occurred, the rest of the novel feels extremely drawn out as Flan & co. try to cover up the deed (as well as another twist or two that I’ll remain silent on). Sure this is realistic aftermath, but given that you already know she’s gong to get caught, it all seems a little bit irrelevant. That being said, I felt as though the book ends somewhat abruptly and leaves several loose threads which, given the choice of a diary narration, could easily and unassumingly have been addressed. One of them is related to one of those twists I alluded to above, which was fairly huge and I’m not entirely sure what Handler’s motivation was for including it (I understand about 50% of his desire, but I feel like it probably introduces some problems into the earlier narrative), and I’m also not sure how it colors my entire interpretation of the events that transpired earlier in the novel as well as my understanding of the character of Flannery. I love a twist ending an awful lot, but I am lukewarm about this one.
Overall, this book is definitely dark comedy that brutally lampoons the whole “high-school drama/coming of age” drama. Essentially, if you put a macabre twist on say The Breakfast Club mixed with Dawson’s Creek with a heavy sprinkling of Heathers (wait, does that give you Buffy?!?), you’d have this book. In fact, I could very clearly see this being made into a movie some day; it had the right structure and vibe. I felt it started off as a more black comedy au lait, that is fairly light-hearted, but by the end of the book the comedy has a hard time shining through all of the darkness. That being said, I found Flannery an engaging (though sometimes annoying and unlikable) narrator, and the book an amusing and enjoyable read. It would certainly lend itself to a second reading, and I’d read more of Handler’s adult fare in the future, even if this isn’t exactly high literature.