Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A "Farewell" that's really a hello to Dorothy Parker


A “Farewell” that’s really a hello to Dorothy Parker

I’m a fan of Dorothy Parker’s story, Big Blonde, though she may be better remembered for her clever quotes, “I’ve never been a millionaire but I just know I’d be darling at it.” Though her heyday was 1920’s, Parker’s wit is still fresh and inspiring. So I cheer Ellen’s Meister’s novel, which brings her ghost to the rescue of a modern literary woman.

Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister (Putnam & Sons, February 2013) is a thinking woman’s fantasy. Violet Epps, fearless movie critic for a national magazine, is a hopeless wimp in her personal life, crippled with anxiety not entirely of the neurotic variety.

Recently, Violet lost her sister in a car accident, as well as custody of her beloved niece. To add to the turmoil, her loser boyfriend is set to move into her house and her snarky assistant wants her job. Feeling she needs inspiration, Violet, who thinks of Parker as a kind of literary alter ego, makes a reservation for The Algonquin Hotel’s dining room.

She is hoping to find courage to finally break up at the site of the old literary round table, where wits Sherwood Anderson, Alexander Wolcott and the outrageous Dorothy Parker did battle. When the manager asks her to sign his guest book of celebrity writers,Violet  is very honored. But afterward she begins to feel very odd. The world looks sharper, there's a voice coaching her, she doesn't sound like herself when she talks--the loser boyfriend is quickly dispatched! 

When Violet comes to in her house, she still has the Guest Book and a guest, one Dorothy Parker. One pushy ghost, she makes herself at home with the liquor and Violet’s tortured psyche, and in the Mary Poppins tradition of otherworldly do-gooders, proceeds to give Violet the” medicine” she needs to gain control of her life. Unlike that character, Meister wisely gives Parker her real life “baggage.” And in the course of this fun plot, there’s enough back and forth between Violet and Dorothy to believe they are real friends, who don’t always have each other’s benefit in mind. Especially when you are talking about spirit possession without consent!

Suffice it to say, Violet will stop “shrinking.” Her fierce energy and wit released in her reviews, will start to manifest in her life. Channeling Dorothy means Violet finds the courage to live her convictions. Then there is Dorothy’s unwillingness to move to the light, and perhaps get on with her next life?    

As Dorothy Parker has said, “Brevity is the soul of lingerie,” so I suggest you read this book and laugh. But it’s not for Parker fans only. There's a modern romance here and a knowing look at what challenges women face in their working life. Those that remember Topper or The Ghost & Mrs. Muir will also like this novel. And perhaps it will actually lead some readers to Big Blonde.

SW