Ellen Meister acknowledges her debt to J. D. Salinger’s suggestion that writers should be very still and imagine what they would want to read if they had the world to choose from. Then they should sit down and shamelessly write it themselves. FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER is that reality. Meister honors Dorothy Parker, her still-fresh political convictions, and her body of witty, insightful work in this very nice literary romp.
Two overlapping storylines are created seamlessly, and the tension of the first plays convincingly into the second. A divorcée in her late 30s, Violet Epps wants to gain custody of her niece Delaney after the death of her parents. She is thwarted by the paternal grandparents who have money, a 45-year marriage, and an overwhelming desire to keep the girl. Violet is a literary critic who has modeled herself after Dorothy Parker, a famous writer from 70 years ago, who was part of the Algonquin Round Table that shaped New York style and cleverness in the world of writing and publishing.
Violet has successfully adapted Parker’s style to her film reviews, but she also wants to model Parker’s dynamic, take-no-prisoners approach to life to her own, though she is too quiet and self-effacing. In addition to the consuming custody battle for Delaney, she is faced with a ridiculous boyfriend who needs to go away and a troublesome intern at her work. She meets the boyfriend at the Algonquin Hotel with her dog Woollcott stuffed in her purse for special support, and then amazingly she touches Parker’s signature in the ancient guest book and feels Parker’s spirit inside her.
"Meister honors Dorothy Parker, her still-fresh political convictions, and her body of witty, insightful work in this very nice literary romp.... Parker was the perfect New Yorker: sharp, witty and eminently quotable. And it is clear that Meister had a lot of responsible fun paying tribute to her."
Violet fumbles out of the restaurant, stealing the guest book, and returns to her house where she recognizes a very real Dorothy Parker in her drawing room, waiting for a gin and tonic, “light on the tonic.” She has inadvertently channeled Parker, and the relationship between the two women begins.
The second storyline shows Parker and her coming awareness of why she has not gone “to meet the light” and move off the pages of the guest book. She instructs Violet how to stand up for herself and gives her unbelievable prods. After a period of time, Parker grows to admire Violet and begins to trust her enough to talk about her own circumstances, which have kept her “captured in the pages of the guest book.” Because Violet is so well-versed in Parker’s life and her place in history (assuring Parker that she is remembered for more than a few barbed quips), their conversations about the 70-years-ago world reveal wonderful comments about the Algonquin Round Table, the large writers who dined there, and their foibles. Sprinkled throughout the novel are references to powerful names: Hemingway’s magnetism, Fitzgerald’s outspoken wife, Groucho Marx’s innuendoes. These realizations are definitely the gotcha moments of the novel, and Parker fans will enjoy recognizing and hearing them again. Parker finally must say farewell but will do so on her own terms.
One of the highlights of the novel is Violet’s review of A Foundling’s Story, a sappy title for a “maudlin and manipulative” film. She ends the review as follows: “Clearly, it’s possible for even the most hackneyed direction to elicit tears. So if you’re eager for a good cry…go see A Founding’s Story. You might not feel proud of yourself for losing control when the violins swell (yes, violins --- I meant it when I said there were no surprises), but you’ll have handfuls of tissues to hide your embarrassment.” Violet writes the review honoring Parker’s advice: “Just give an honest review about what made it so terrible.” The review has credible tinges of Parker’s style, and it becomes an important piece of writing to endanger and then empower Violet. I loved it.
Violet alludes to the opening of “The Metamorphosis” for another of her reviews: “Abby Collins awoke one morning from restless dreams to find she had been transformed into…Steve Carell.” And she wraps up the allusion by talking about the concept of metamorphosis being a Hollywood staple that won’t die, kind of “like a giant cockroach.” Perfect. Perfect Parker.
And on their first walk together outside, Violet is worried about how she’ll introduce Parker to anyone she may meet. Parker assures her that she could be a “friend from East Egg or…someplace with old money and mansions. I’ve never been rich, but I’m sure I’d be darling at it.” Meister has caught the nuance and language of what I imagine to be the consummate Dorothy Parker.
Parker was the perfect New Yorker: sharp, witty and eminently quotable. And it is clear that Meister had a lot of responsible fun paying tribute to her. She, too, might have been channeling Parker: “I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.”
Reviewed by Jane Krebs on February 22, 2013
Farewell, Dorothy Parker