Before there was Fran Leibowitz, there was Dorothy Parker. Before there was practically anyone, there was Dorothy Parker. When it comes to expressing the pleasure and pain of being just a touch too smart to be happy, she's winner and still champion after all these years. Along with Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, and the rest of the Algonquin Round Table, she dominated American pop lit in the '20s and '30s; like Ginger Rogers, she did it all backwards. Parker's held up well--maybe the best of all of them.
This book is essential for any Parker fan, and an excellent way for new readers to make her acquaintance. It reprints her finest short stories and poems, some later articles, and all of her excellent "Constant Reader" book reviews from the Depression-era glory days of the New Yorker. The poetry, always light, has become brittle, sorry to say. But you've only to pick any story to be reminded that no middle-distance writer was better than Parker at her best.
Salon: My Dorothy Parker Years
Goodreads: The Portable Dorothy Parker
Let's set the scene...
Dean and Tristan have completed their little penis-measuring ritual at the Chilton dance. Dean and Rory have since left and are taking a nice stroll through snowy Stars Hollow.
(Rory drops her purse.)
Dean: I'll get it. God, this weighs a ton. What do you have in here?
Rory: I don't know. A lipstick, five dollar bill. Gum, hair spray, a book.
Dean: A book?
Dean: You brought a book to the dance?
Dean: You thought there'd be a lot of downtime?
Rory: No. I just take a book with me everywhere. It's just habit.
Dean: So, uh, what are you reading?
Rory: The Portable Dorothy Parker.
(She shows him the book.)
Dean: (reading) 'There's little in taking or giving. There's little in water or wine. This living, this living, this living, Was never a project of mine.' Cheery.
(They settle into a comfortable chair together.)
Rory: Funny though. (pause)
If nothing comes out of the BW&R Challenge... the fact that I have been introduced to Dot (yes, we're on a first name basis) makes it all worth it. Before I opened The Portable Dorothy Parker, I really had no knowledge of the woman behind the words. I knew she was a member of that elite Algonquin Round Table (what that meant, I really didn't know). I knew that Amy Sherman-Palladino apparently felt inspired by her. And that's where my extensive Parker expertise ended. However, by page two of this book... I was foaming at the mouth to learn more.
I fully understand now why Amy Sherman-Palladino is so singularly obsessed with Dorothy Parker. And I can see Parker's influence on AS-P's writing and character development. The wit, the cadence, the poetry within a single line... I now know that Dorothy's spirit can be seen floating throughout the words of Gilmore girls (and now... Bunheads). It's obvious why, on top of endless references and her own style being inspired by, AS-P named her own production company (Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions) after this chick.
While known for her pithy, often too-true one-liners... her stories make up the meat of this volume. And these are not stories that will leave you feeling warm n' fuzzy. Parker's stories are sad recountings of unhappy marriages, failed friendships and lives poorly lived. However, she does not come across as angry or bitter. This is life... life can be hard. And as she said to Samuel Goldwyn during her infamous time in Hollywood: “I know this will come as a shock to you, Mr. Goldwyn, but in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.”
I could go on and on about Ms. Parker and her brilliance... but I highly recommend that you start your own journey with the purchasing/borrowing/stealing of this book. Between her short stories, poems (or "verses" as she was want to call them), letters and reviews (of both books and plays), The Portable Dorothy Parker gives you a glimpse into the genius, madness and darkness experienced by one of the greatest wits to gift us with her existence.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
I can see Paris Geller and Dorothy Parker, seated at the The Algonquin between Benchley and Woollcott... engaged in trying to outwit each other while simultaneously teaching "the boys" that they're far superior.