Lemony Snicket's sweet and sour end

Parting is such sweet sorrow – unless you're the Baudelaire orphans, in which case, it probably will prove to be the sour, curdled misery that has been much of life. Nonetheless, after seven years of perils and unpleasantness (to say nothing of 50 million books sold – despite the incessant pleadings of the author that everyone else please find something more cheerful to read), Lemony Snicket is putting the hapless trio out of their misery with the aptly titled "The End."

The 13th book in the mock Gothic "A Series of Unfortunate Events" opens with Violet, Klaus, and Sunny literally in the same boat as the villainous Count Olaf, who is wielding both a harpoon gun and a diving helmet full of deadly spores. As if this weren't enough, in true Perils of Pauline-style, a storm immediately blows up, shipwrecking them on an island. Here, fortune seems to smile on our castaways, since the island is inhabited by members of a white-robed, fermented-coconut-swilling cult who appear friendly. They are "facilitated" by Ishmael, who keeps asking everyone to "Call me Ish." (One small sadness regarding this series is that the periodic Herman Melville references don't seem to have led to anything more substantive than the amusement of the author.)

Fans by now know what to expect, and Snicket (the nom de plume of Daniel Handler – read an interview with him) features more devilry by Count Olaf, lots of vocabulary lessons, and helpful translations of the dialogue of Sunny, the youngest Baudelaire. Snicket leaves himself wide open to critics by describing each adventure as a "thin, papery layer," since it's been a real stretch to get to Book 13. For example, the events of the two previous books combined make up only one week. Thankfully, "The End" proves a more satisfying read than the pointless harpoonings of "The Penultimate Peril."

"It cannot be said that 'The End' contains the end of the Baudelaire story," cautions Snicket, "One could say in fact that no story really has a beginning, and no story really has an end.... We might even say that the world is always in medias res – a Latin phrase which means in the midst of things ... and that it is impossible to solve any mystery, or find the root of any trouble." And indeed, loose ends remain flapping all over the place. But Snicket provides a few long-awaited events: Count Olaf at last gets his comeuppance, and readers finally learn the identity of Snicket's lost love, Beatrice. Other clues that don't get answered satisfactorily include the fate of the members of the mysterious V.F.D. (which apparently does stand for Volunteer Fire Department) and whether they're ever going to repair the schism that rent them asunder. And while one old friend puts in an appearance, those hoping for a reunion with the intrepid Quagmire triplets or the faithless Fiona and the brusque Captain Widdershins will be sorely disappointed. But after all, by now the Baudelaires have gotten used to that. Grade: B–

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