Skip to main content

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.


Comments

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.”
Anonymous 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!

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Invitation to the Waltz, by Rosamond Lehmann

Pages: 304Original date of publication: 1931My edition: Why I decided to read: I found this while looking on ebay for Virago Modern ClassicsHow I acquired my copy: bought secondhand on ebayInvitation to the Waltz is one of those coming-of-age-stories. Unlike, for example, The Crowded Street, which focuses on a young woman’s entire coming-of-age experience, Invitation to the Waltz focuses on just one moment in seventeen-year-old Olivia Curtis’s life: a coming-out ball, the seminal moment in the life of any girl of the period (approximately the 1920s). Olivia is neither the most beautiful nor the most vivacious girl at the party, and she’s apprehensive about the evening and all it entails. This is not one of those “high action” books, but it gives a lot of insight into the thoughts and feelings of a girl making the leap into adulthood. I think if I had read this book ten years ago, I would have completely identified with Olivia—she’s shy and retiring, and unsure of herself. Her dress is…

The Sunday Salon

What a crazy week this has been! My cousin, who’s ten, was in town for most of this past week, and since he’s high energy, it’s taken a lot of energy especially out of my mom, who also had to deal with my 87-year-old grandmother. Plus. my sister was in town for the weekend, so it’s been mostly crazy around here. All of my posts this past week have been scheduled; and I only got around to writing a bunch of outstanding reviews yesterday afternoon. It’s quieter here now that my mom has driven my sister back to New York, and I’ve spent much of today catching up on sleep and, of course, reading. Right now I’m reading one of my Virago Modern Classics: The Rising Tide, by Molly Keane (though it was originally published under her pseudonym MJ Farrell). I’m really loving it; the author really knew how to combine wonderful (sometimes exasperating) characters with a great plot. I’ve been cruising Ebay for more books by Molly Keane, since I’m living her writing style. This is easily one of the b…

Read in 2014

January:
1. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
2. The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, by Tony Attwood
3. Mozart and the Whale, by Mary and Jerry Newport
4. Handling the Truth, by Beth Kephart
5. Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
6. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
7. Them, by Joyce Carol Oates
8. Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys

February:
1. Random Family, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
2. I Was Told There'd Be Cake, by Sloane Crosley
3. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
4. Twilight Sleep, by Edith Wharton
5. Twirling Naked in the Streets, by Jeannie Davide-Rivera
6. Hungry Hill, by Daphne Du Maurier
7. Me, Myself, and Why, by Jennifer Ouilette
8. Lady Chatterley's Lover, by DH Lawrence
9. The Wise Virgins, by Leonard Woolf

March:
1. Out With It, by Katherine Preston
2. Never Have I Ever, by Katie Heaney
3. Look me in the Eye, by John Elder Robison
4. Beyond, the Glass, by Antonia White
5. Atypical, by Jesse Saperstein
6. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Far…