Hello and welcome to another edition of the BBRBF Book Club! This month we decided to read “We Are Pirates” by Daniel Handler, which was one of my suggestions. I was initially intrigued by this novel due to the fact that the writer goes by another name: Lemony Snicket. Growing up, I was enamored by “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and imagined “We Are Pirates” would have a similarly sarcastic “doom and gloom” about it. Instead, it offered aspects of realistic dissatisfaction with the monotony of life mixed with a desperation for adventure (in whatever form it takes).
The book is told from the perspective of someone you never meet, who is sitting within the main character’s bathroom during a barbeque that he wasn’t invited to. It consists of two storylines: one of Phil Needle and one of his fourteen-year old daughter, Gwen. Phil Needle, who is constantly referred to by both first and last name, is a radio producer who left his “party” life in New York for a boring one in San Francisco. His current project involves a radio show about the lawless American spirit, but when faced with the prospect of pitching it he can’t grasp a title.
Gwen is caught stealing from the local drug store and as punishment is forced to volunteer at an elderly home. She is assigned to work with a man named Errol who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Errol believes that he served in the Navy and has gathered countless books on life at sea, with particular emphasis on piracy. He and Gwen begin to bond over their lust for adventure and freedom, and eventually decide to pursue their dream of becoming pirates.
Things quickly spiral out of control for both Phil and Gwen. Phil maintains an odd obsession with a previous assistant while fantasizing about his current one, Levine, after finding a sexual word document on her computer. Gwen and Errol manage to gather a fairly useless crew comprised of the daughter of Gwen’s dentist (Amber), an employee of Errol’s retirement home (Manny, who’s actual name is Myoparo), and a shanghaied boy from Gwen’s former swim team (Cody). As Phil travels with Levine to Los Angeles to pitch his radio show, Gwen and her crew steal a boat and head out to sea.
This is where I began questioning my affinity towards the book, and even after finishing it I’m unsure of my feelings. On the way to Los Angeles, Levine admits to Phil that she slept with her previous boss. This seems to only fuels Phil’s lust. Meanwhile, our pirates encounter a boat occupied by a young couple. They decide to board and take the couple for everything they’re worth, including their lives. The justification for these actions comes from one of Errol’s books: “he who wants the world must first escape from it.” This break from societal standards marks the beginning of their freedom, and in turn, their eventual demise.
Back in L.A., Phil Needle and Levine sleep together, with some assistance from the influence of alcohol. Phil then wakes up to an alarming phone call: his daughter is missing. The events that follow are nothing short of catastrophic. Levine tenders her resignation, Phil must cancel the biggest pitch of his life, and his already loveless marriage falls apart due to the threat of his wife, Marina, leaving him after they find Gwen. Additionally, a monstrous storm barrels down on Gwen and her crew, they are marooned on an island, two of them become mutinous and abandon the crew, and Errol is slowly slipping into madness.
But my favorite part is this: while Gwen, Amber and Errol set back out to sea on a lifeboat, they hear Phil Needle’s voice on their radio. This further drives Errol’s mania, shouting that the man on the radio abandoned him, drove his wife to her death, and stole all of his money. While Errol is becoming feverishly violent, you hear Gwen shouting “Grandpa!”
Out of protection, Amber fires her gun, which turns out to be empty and the forceful air accidently hits the bottom of the lifeboat. All three of them go flying into the water, but neither Errol, nor Amber can swim. Gwen must watch as her Grandfather purposefully lets go of a plank of wood and is taken by the ocean. She grabs Amber and swims to shore. As Phil Needle secretly smokes a joint on his terrace, after being threatened that his wife is leaving him, he spots Gwen across the way.
The whole ordeal was blamed on Errol, that he was a senile old man who kidnapped his granddaughter. That Gwen and the others were hopeless victims, watching as Errol killed that young couple. That their escape from reality was really her grandfather’s break from reality.
To be honest, I’ve never been so conflicted on my opinion of a book. I’m both confused and intrigued by this story. What I found most interesting is that both father and daughter are searching for their own “lawless spirit” but they never bond over this matter. Similarly, neither of them take responsibility for their own actions, nor do they recognize that their miserable existence is what they made it. Instead, they search for external stimuli, whether it be people or events, for happiness.
I leave you with my favorite quote from the book and what really tied the title to the story: “We steal the happiness of others in order to be happy ourselves, and when it is stolen from us we voyage desperately to steal it back. We are pirates.”
Not only does my outfit match the cover of the novel, but it also adheres more to Gwen’s storyline of life at sea. My location for these photos also plays a part, and it is this: life is rocky. There are several ways to navigate the storm that is life, but running away, or breaking from reality, is not one of them. And that was my biggest take away from this novel.
Be sure to check out the rest of the book club’s reviews and fabulous outfits: Sara (In a Nutshell…), Kathrine (The Miss Information Blog), Noelle (The Classy Junk), Kristina (The Eyre Effect), and Lyndsey (Dressed in Mascara)!