Brain Pickings

Maira Kalman + Daniel Handler Illustrate a Breakup Through Significant Objects

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What sugar and a pinhole camera have to do with the ephemeral ephemera of impossible love.

Few things can steer me towards fiction these days, but a collaboration between Daniel Handler (better-known to the world as Lemony Snicket) and the great Maira Kalman is positively among them. Such is the case of Why We Broke Up, which tells the poignant, bittersweet story of a teenage romance gone awry through objects of special significance, which make cameos in a letter Min is writing to break up with her boyfriend, Ed. These emotional ephemera, each imbued with a specific memory of their ephemeral but monumental love, are captured in Kalman’s signature childlike artwork, and bespeak a kind of truth at once more fluid and more infallible than fact.

And if you’ve ever found yourself in love, in impossible love, you’ll relate to the heroine’s objectified lament.

I stand entwined in fire on the inextinguishable bonfire of inconceivable love.”

The book’s companion Tumblr lets you voyeuristically read other people’s break-up stories and share your own. Stories are divided into amusingly titled categories, ranging from the petty (“I can’t believe how disgusting you were”) to the outraged (“I just can’t believe it”) to the vulnerable (“I’d take you back in a minute”).

The story, of course, exudes Handler’s unmistakable wit and intelligent humor, underpinned by a kind of self-consciously self-conscious humanity.

Why We Broke Up comes a little over a year after Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman’s first collaboration, the lovely children’s book 13 Words.

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