Farewell, Dorothy Parker

By Ellen Meister

Putnam | 2013 | 301 pages

Reviewed by Janet Garber

ellen meister

The Bitch from Beyond

"Bring your inner bitch into the light where she belongs," counsels Dorothy Parker, newly resurrected, between gulps of scotch and gin. She’s holding court in the home of one sharp-tongued movie critic, Violet Epps, a could-be successor, who needs help in the assertiveness department when it comes to everyday life.

Violet is fighting for custody of her niece, pondering how to dump a dopey boyfriend, defending herself against the backstabbing moves of a junior associate, and making goo-goo eyes at her hunky kung fu teacher. A little backbone is what she needs and Dorothy Parker is just the one to give it to her.

“You’re far too gentle,” she [Parker] said. “You don’t want to hurt Malcolm.”

“You make it sound like ‘gentle’ is a character flaw.”

“It’s not,” Mrs. Parker said, “if you’re a poodle. But for a woman trying to make her way in the world, there is a lot to be said for acrimony.”

If the real Dorothy Parker did not utter these words, she certainly could have. Ellen Meister has done a fine job of imitating her and placing her in a modern context.

As always, Meister delights in sprinkling fairy dust into her otherwise realistic stories of contemporary folks confronting the issues contemporary folks confront. In The Other Life (see my March 2011 Neworld review), the sci-fi elements got a little out of hand, seemed silly, and, moreover, a clumsy plot device. Here, however, mainly due to her clever recreation of the acerbic Algonquin Round Table wit, Meister is able to deliver an affecting family drama, likeable characters, happy endings. The plot is tightly constructed and just when we are settling in for a predictable turn, it weaves left or right, giving the story yet one more twist. We find ourselves quite willing to suspend disbelief and allow Ms. Parker to assume corporeal status – she’s great company, after all (though a bit unpredictable). And note: Meisters’s one sex scene is surprisingly satisfying, as her women readers, in particular, may well prefer suggestion and hyperbole and dreaminess to any graphic and detailed descriptions of body parts.

Dorothy Rothschild Parker (1893-1967) was a successful screenwriter, poet, short story writer and best known for her wisecracks which remain funny to this day (see Wikipedia). She was also a civil rights supporter and donated her legacy to Martin Luther King, Jr. which ties in to her advocacy for the kung fu teacher, a black man, as love interest.

Once she materializes in Farewell, Dorothy Parker, she is exasperating, controlling, intrusive, alcoholic, a lover and proponent of getting what you want in life. She is also beset by her own hang-ups and demons, which her foil, Violet, helps her to vanquish.

The result is a charming book, especially for lovers of Ms. Parker, who get to spend some quality time with her, as it were. It is clear that Meister intends the book to be a tribute to her. And it is. Meister does not whitewash her character, though Meister herself is considerably less cynical than her mentor whose take on life and love could be somber: Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.
Love is woman's moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this the gist and sum of it,
What earthly good can come of it?


Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful,
Nooses give,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live.

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