Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: The Portable Dorothy Parker


Pages: 626
Original date of publication: 1944 (original collection; additions made to later editions)
My copy: 2006 (Penguin)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Phoenix airport bookstore, December 2012

Dorothy Parker was famous for her satirical wit, a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, and one of the earliest writers for the New Yorker. She was once arrested for protesting the execution of the murderers Sacco and Vanzetti. Later, she pursued screenwriting in Hollywood and was later blacklisted there for her involvement in left-wing politics. She was married three times, twice to the same man; and had four suicide attempts, none successful. After her death, her ashes lay for 21 years on a shelf at a funeral home and then in the office of a Wall Street law firm, before she was finally buried at the headquarters of the NAACP. Parker loved one-liners and word play, and this is a compilation of short stories, magazine articles, letters, interviews, book and theater reviews, and poetry written by Parker over a period of roughly 60 years.

Although Parker deplored the idea of writing “like a woman,” in her short fiction she often focused on themes that women frequently write about. Her short stories tend to focus on the relationships between the sexes, and the differences that arise out of relationships between men and women. She was really good at watching people and listening to them, which is how she can write an entire story in dialogue and still get her message across by implication. Two of my favorite stories among the ones collected here are “Big Blonde,” the story of a young woman’s alcoholic decline (based on personal experience, which makes all the more powerful); and “The Game,” in which a young married couple have a dinner party at which a game (resembling Charades), innocent at first, is played. This last story highlights the fact that there’s a hidden meaning (or multiple meanings) for every action.

But her stories don’t really capture what Dorothy Parker might have been like as a person; for that, you have to look at her other works for that famous, biting wit. In her book reviews, Parker reviews not only the book but the author as well (“Dashiell Hammett is as American as a sawed-off shotgun.”). Even when she’s trying to review other people, Parker is pretty self-deprecatory; so she’ll interject her reviews and articles with personal anecdotes that poke fun at her own age, for example. I love an author who can roll with the punches, so to speak, and someone who can make fun of themselves gets extra points with me. In all, this collection is an impressive representation of the oeuvre of Dorothy Parker’s work, life, and personality.


3 comments:

vicki (skiourophile) said...

Big Blonde is one of my favourite DP stories too - I have a very beaten up copy of this collection: it is wonderful to dip into.

Karen K. said...

I have this on the TBR shelf and have never read it! I've only read some of her famous quips. I think my favorite was a review of Winnie the Pooh:

“It is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.”

garotatraduzida said...

Hi, that's a nice review. I'm doing a work of translation on her book for Brazilian Portuguese and since I can't decide which ones to translate, I'm looking to know which stories or poems people most liked. So thanks for saying two of them here and if you have the time and would like to cooperate with me, tell me the poems or journalism works that you liked too. Thanks!

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