Truthfully, I haven't read a lot of Dorothy Parker. I've only read her pithy quotes, but who wouldn't fall in love with those?
"If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you."
"This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it."
"You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think."
Her words are like fine chocolates that shouldn't be gorged on, but instead tasted and savored individually or they could lead to a stomachache.
Author Ellen Meister, in her new book Farewell, Dorothy Parker, brings Parker to life as a mentor from death to her timid character Violet Epps. Violet is a movie critic with big opinions who can't seem to speak up for herself in her own life.
At the beginning, I didn't like Violet very much. She stood in front of a maitre'd and was overlooked without a peep. That bugged me. She didn't have the gumption to break up with her mooching boyfriend. In fact, not very much about Violet was likeable. Luckily, she was immediately plunged into interacting with Dorothy Parker. Violet meets Parker when she's asked to sign the Algonquin Hotel guestbook. Somehow, she ends up taking the guestbook home only to learn that Parker's ghost is attached to it. That's how Dorothy Parker ends up in Violet's house on long-term loan, ready to give advice and prod Violet into having a backbone.
I would have to say the first part of this novel dragged a bit, but then it captured me and I finished it in one afternoon.
Meister, of course, had to channel Dorothy Parker in order to portray her wit, and I think she did quite well. Here's a passage in the book that made me chuckle. Violet is showing the ghost Dorothy Parker how computers work and allowing her to write an email. The Parker character speaks first:
"In my day, cc stood for carbon copy."
"Now it stands for nothing."
"Like your politicians..."
When Violet learns that she can carry the guestbook around allowing the ghost of Dorothy Parker to travel with her, the two of them encounter a neighbor going for a run and Parker asks if Candy, the neighbor, knows of a nearby smokeshop:
Candy blinked. "Smoke shop?" she said again.
Mrs. Parker shrugged. "Vile habit. I used to say, 'I'll quit when I die,' but it turns out even that was harder than I thought."
Meister imagines a Parker who would banter about her current state -- dead.
An entire novel can't be built around a few clever phrases though, and Meister didn't rely on the presence of Parker alone. Her character was in a situation where if she didn't grow a backbone, she was going to lose things she loved, like her job and the care of her niece. So Parker's appearance was fortuitous in helping the character change her life.
And, in turn, Violet helped Parker face things that she might be avoiding after death, the idea of crossing over to be with loved ones. The novel deals with Parker's painful childhood and whether her mother, who died before she turned five, would love her in the afterlife. Meister could have stayed on the surface and dealt only with the wisecracking Parker, but she dug into some of the true emotions that the larger-than-life woman might have dealt with.
This is definitely a book worth picking up.
I received an ARC from Putnam to review the book and the quotes may change in the final version. The free book didn't slant my review. The book will be available in February and can currently be pre-ordered on Amazon.
I enjoyed this novel and was a little bereft at the end when I had to close the book on the characters.
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