Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister (audio)

farewellI “like” the Dorothy Parker facebook page, available here, which is run by Ellen Meister and posts Parker quotes and anecdotes regularly. This is how I became aware of Meister’s new book, a nod in novel form to the feisty one.

In wrapping up this audiobook experience I am a little conflicted. I was alternately spellbound and greatly entertained, and exasperated, with the novel’s protagonist, Violet Epps. Violet is a movie critic in present-day New York, and her verbal wit on the page is razor-sharp (as they say), in the spirit of her acknowledged hero, Dorothy Parker. But in real life, she’s petrified of everything, rarely finding the voice to ask for a seat at a restaurant; in the opening scenes (quite frustrating) she is trying to break up with a dirtbag loser boyfriend but can’t. And then she obtains a book signed by Dorothy Parker, and discovers – gasp – that she can summon the dead writer at will. This changes Violet’s life enormously.

Violet needs a helping hand in several areas of her life: dumping the boyfriend and fielding a new one; dealing with a horrible bratty new underling at work; and fighting a custody battle for her recently orphaned niece. Mrs. Parker (as she insists on being called) is a great help – or sometimes a great interferer – in these matters, giving Ms. Epps (as she insists on calling her) the backbone she needs. Sometimes this takes the form of encouragement (or even feeding her lines); but Mrs. Parker also has the ability to enter Violet and take charge of her body, which can be messy. There is always the questions of where to give credit (or blame) – how much is Violet in control of herself? She is apt to give Dorothy Parker the credit, but she’ll have to learn how to stand up for herself by herself in the end, of course. The satisfying flip side to Violet’s growth is that she has something to offer Mrs. Parker, as well.

On the one hand, Meister’s characters were well-developed and believable (with the possible exception of a rather ogre-ish grandmother), and I cared about them. Dorothy Parker was wonderful, everything you’d want her to be, realistic, heroic but humanly flawed. I was honestly desperate to get back to this audiobook when I had to shut it off. I needed to know what was going to happen next; I was excited or anxious for Violet, who I liked.

On the other hand, Violet’s behavior was often infuriating. She was so slow to learn, so allergic to speaking up for herself in even the most obvious of needs, that I wanted to shake her. We spent what felt like eons in situations where she should have just done something. Now, I’m not a person who typically struggles to speak up for herself; I don’t suffer from social anxiety except in the most exceptional of circumstances. Perhaps I should be tolerant of this portrayal because perhaps it is entirely realistic for people who truly fight these issues. [Although, the explanation for Violet’s social anxiety – a trauma involving her recently-deceased sister when they were small – I found rather trite.] But even if this was a realistic portrayal, I found it tiresome.

Similarly, perhaps I should give allowances for this part because I’m not a romance fan – but in the thread of this story that was a romance novel, there occurs that maddening trope wherein the woman wants the man but pushes him away, and it takes far too long for them to reconcile their totally obvious mutual desire. My patience was tested. But, romance fans, you should like that part.

I know I sound harsh here, but I point out again, the plot’s action had me riveted and I am going to miss Violet Epps (and Dorothy Parker!) very much now that this book is finished. I just want to communicate that I had conflicting moments throughout.

And in the end, I was silly putty in this book’s hands. I was so pleased for the happy endings and for all the characters that I forgot my earlier quibbles. Had I been I overreacting? Or did the later success of this novel simply wash away the memories of my frustration? Whatever it was, my patience with this book was rewarded and I’m won over. Three cheers for Violet and Dorothy, both.

Rating: 6 edits.

3 Responses

  1. I love your review. I understand your quibbles but based on your positive points I think I will read. Thank you!

  2. […] Hellman is a counterpart to Dorothy Parker, another spunky female wit I have enjoyed reading and reading about. So then, it should be clear why I was interested in this novel about the Hellman and Hammett love […]

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