you never know

I've been curious about Dorothy Parker for years. Obviously not curious enough to go to the library, but curious enough to pick up this old book when I saw it for 75 cents. I have to say I don't get it. This thing she does where she captures the redundant whine of a spoiled socialite - I guess it's funny if you think spoiled socialites are funny. I found it boring and downright irritating. In fairness to Ms. Parker, I find the fact that nearly everyone in short stories from her era is a socialite irritating. They all seem to have servants that take care of the mundane chores of life, and they all talk and act as if it's perfectly natural and expected. But at least Thurber and Benchley aren't snotty about it. Parker seems very snotty to me, and her humor reminds me of the nasty insulting quips of Raymond's father on Everybody Loves Raymond.

So tell me, somebody: Is this it? Is this book pretty much what you get from Dorothy Parker? Or was I unlucky enough to snag the worst of her books?

Part Two

While I was reading After Such Pleasures and wondering what is the big deal a few weeks ago, Crazy Salad showed up in the free pile at work. "Ugh, feminist essays by Nora Ephron!" was what I thought as I kept walking, leaving the book behind.

A couple of weeks after that, Crazy Salad appeared in the OTHER free pile in another part of the building. Obviously whoever grabbed it from the first pile had read it and recycled it. This time as I was walking by and noticing it, I saw the little "Dorothy Parker" in the cover blurbs, so I took it to read what Nora E had to say about Dorothy P.

Turns out Nora E idolized Dorothy P in her youth, and wanted to grow up and be DP, the talk of the town, the Algonquin Glass Ceiling Smasher. As she grew older she realized her ambition was run-of-the-mill, and she learned that she "had managed to keep myself from what anyone who has read a line about her or by her should have known, which was simply that Dorothy Parker had not been terribly good at being Dorothy Parker either." And that, in reality, being at the Algonquin Round Table was actually a dreadful bore (which I always suspected).

In the end, Nora Ephron still admires Dorothy Parker, but no longer worships at the altar of the Legend of Dorothy Parker. Myself, I am disappointed to discover that Parker is no Benchley, but surprised to find that the old articles and essays of Nora Ephron are quite interesting and entertaining.


BonzoGal said...

Well, Dorothy Parker wasn't a humor writer like Benchley. Not everyone at the Algonquin Round Table wrote the same sort of stuff, they were just drinking pals. Dorothy wrote darker stories, often about "the beautiful people" whom everyone assumed were happy because they were rich or famous or witty. (She herself was a depressive.)

I love her stuff because she was one of the first women writers to write about non-romantic despair, about women who felt bad about themselves that they weren't happy with the role that they THOUGHT they should accept.

She was also a big-time fighter for racial equality, and left a hefty sum of money to the NAACP. She might not have been a happy person, but she was an honorable one and a good writer of stories that make one feel kind of uncomfortable.

Mark Martin said...

Yeah, I realize she was not a humor writer like Benchley. But I thought she was at least like Thurber. He was basically a humorist but also could very grim.

I could forgive her for being less funny than Benchley.

She does sound like an admirable person, as a human being. And she could turn a phrase. I found myself envious of some of her skills. It's just that, overall, her stories bored and/or irritated me.

Maybe it's just me.

BonzoGal said...

I actually have that exact paperback copy you've just read, and although I liked it a lot, it's definitely not all her work, nor her "best" work. Let me see if I can find a copy of her really fab stuff to send you.

Benchley cracks me up, but I can only read about 3 of his essays before they start seeming a little too much the same. However, I'd rather spend an evening drinking with him rather than her, that's for sure, although he'd probably find a way to weasel out of the tab.

HemlockMan said...

I've never read either of them, so I can't comment.

Recently, however, I did have occasion to pick up a copy of an old best-seller in hardback at a library. So I bought it for 50 cents thinking I'd see why it had been considered to be so well written in its day.

It was awful:

HARVEST HOME by Thomas Tryon. By the Twelve Gods! I read about a hundred pages or so before giving up and skipping ahead every few pages to see if it got any better. Alas.