Wednesday, July 18, 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- At The Head Of The Algonquin Roundtable-Dorothy Parker’s Complete Stories

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the writer and critic Dorothy Parker

Book Review

Dorothy Parker: The Complete Stories, Dorothy Parker, Penguin Books, 1995

I love short stories, probably because given my main preoccupations in life with politics and associated questions the short story has allowed me to read a full story and be done with it at one sitting. Strangely (or maybe not given past educational circumstances) in the American section of the pantheon of the Western literary canon from the first half (roughly) of the twentieth century most of those short story writers were men. You know the litany-London, Hemingway (above all, Hemingway), Fitzgerald, James M. Cain, James T. Farrell and so on (and throw in Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Damon Runyon, and Ring Lardner to add fuel to the fire).

And then, as if to point out graphically all its glaring inequity, right alongside of the “big boys” there was Dorothy Parker. I was crazy for her stuff from the time (whatever or whenever the exact time I am not sure of right now) I read “Big Blonde” (included here naturally) in high school back in the 1960s. And as was (and is) my wont I went to every library and bookstore around to get her other stuff, stuff like “Soldiers of the Republic” since I was also mad about the Spanish Civil War. Of course I then needed to read up on the fabled Algonquin Roundtable in New York City that she sat in as well as material about her political writings (she wrote material on the Sacco and Vanzetti case and participated in other labor and left causes)

Now, for those who have maybe only read “Big Blonde” let’s say, it is not obvious, not obvious at all, to me why a hard scrabble son of the working- class from up in mill town Olde Saco, Maine would be attracted to Parker’s stories. Stories mainly published for women readers of women’s magazines (excuse me, the folks at “The New Yorker”) like “You Were Perfectly Fine,” “Lady With A Lamp,” or “From the Diary Of A New York Lady,” all centered somewhere in midtown Manhattan among the Mayfair swells of the day (late 1920s –1930s) and mainly centered on the travails of the lounge around, shop around, lunch around, sleep around women of that set. But like Fitzgerald and the Ivy League swells that he portrayed endlessly, the Hobey Bakers, the Dink Divers, etc. she knew her milieu and knew how the write like hell about them. And knew their folibles and follies to a “t.” There, simple enough.

Note: I wonder in the post-feminist (or third- wave feminist, take your choice) world of the 2000s with all the changes wrought over the past several decades in male-female relationships whether stories about the caddish and unsentimental men that Dorothy Parker wrote about and the self-absorbed, fretful women who “longed” to satisfy them at a great personal and social cost would “sell” today. Are there any women like that anymore? (Or guys?) What do you think?

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