All the Dirty Parts
By Daniel Handler
144 pages, $22
Well, actually not all the dirty parts available via online pornography are here, but enough likely to be used by relatively naive high school boys keep the action moving.
And yes, the author's real name is Handler, so giggle if you must. Even more ironic, Daniel Handler also has written many children's books as Lemony Snicket.
"All the Dirty Parts," however, is not for the little ones. Nor is it rubbing literary shoulders with "Ulysses," "Lady Chatterley's Lover" or even "Portnoy's Complaint." It presents a teenager's sexual coming of age through the narrow focus of his sex life, with short side trips for his thoughts and questions about love and commitment.
Handler's narrator, teenage sex fiend Cole, details his sexual experiments with his best friend Alec and girlfriend Grisaille. Cole has "a bit of a rep" as a sexual predator, junior grade, in the high school all three attend. Some fellow students shun him, but other partners always seem to become available. Alec functions only as Cole's best friend; gorgeous Grisaille has been around, already having lived in Egypt, Portugal and elsewhere. Other characters, such as fellow students and parents, sketch in the background.
To cram this much sex into so few pages, Handler treats ambiance and setting with a light touch, saving energy and pages for the explicit sex performed by Cole and Grisaille, Cole and Courtney, Cole and Kristen and, sort of, Cole and Alec.
Connoisseurs of erotica probably could include "All the Dirty Parts" in their collections, perhaps as part of the genre illustrating the clumsy fumbling characteristic of early experiences. Erotica as a category seems a bit grand for the work at hand. Handler splashes graphic sex over nearly every page: no page flipping needed here in search of "good" parts. Nevertheless, he has created characters that he and his readers can respect, struggling between pursuit of pleasure and the other parts of their lives. Nor does he scorn the bewildered parents trying to decipher their offspring's behavior.
Yes, Mom, the backpack is blocking the bedroom door on purpose. It is intended to delay your entry while Cole changes the screen on his computer, or pulls up his trousers, or both.
It would be unfair to assume that Handler has betrayed his younger readers. Rather, he has followed them into adolescence and observes their struggles. He also has five novels for adults to his credit, plus two multi-volume series for children.
And just as Lemony Snicket knows how to please his junior fans, Handler has smuggled questions of identity, duty and faithfulness into this novel, amid all the heavy breathing and awkward tangling of limbs.
For the delicate of sensibility, be warned: Handler uses the same coarse words these teens — and even some politicians these days — use among themselves, mostly spelled with four letters. After a while, the language loses its shock value and is hardly noticeable.
The author's concerns are clear enough. Readers just have to look a little harder behind the naughty words to find them.
Stephanie Shapiro is a former News reporter and editor.