I was recently given the honor of receiving an advance copy of Ellen Meister‘s book Farewell, Dorothy Parker. I must confess that, although the name Dorothy Parker was familiar to me, I didn’t know much of anything at all about the woman.
Therefore, when it came time to read the book, I waited for about a week. During this week, I vacillated, trying to decide if I should read up on the late Mrs. Parker before I read a fictional novel that included her. In the end, I decided that since this was supposed to be fiction, it would be better to read it without any foreknowledge of the woman.
Farewell, Dorothy Parker is not about Dorothy Parker, though. It is the tale of Violet Epps, a movie critic who has no problem cutting down the movies that don’t entertain her, but cannot for the life of her manage to stand up to the people in her real life: her boyfriend, her niece’s guardians, her boss’s assistant. She lets these people do what they want, and resigns herself to the consequences of their actions.
Until the day the long-dead Dorothy Parker enters her life. While at the Algonquin Hotel, Mrs. Parker drops into Violet’s lap and her life, wreaking havoc with every part of Violet’s life. Her romantic relationships; the battle over her niece, Delaney; her job – it’s all fair game to Mrs. Parker.
Dorothy Parker pulls no punches and doesn’t worry about hurt feelings. She pushes Violet to become the woman Mrs. Parker knows she can be: a woman who stands up for herself and others, and doesn’t put up with any crap from anyone.
But Violet isn’t the only one we see changing. Dorothy Parker’s spirit has been hanging around the Algonquin Hotel since her death, unwilling (or maybe unable) to let go and move into the next realm. Initial impressions of Mrs. Parker lead us to believe that she’s a hardened, cynical ghost – much as she appeared to be as a woman. But as the story moves on, as Mrs. Parker encourages Violet out of her shell, we begin to catch glimpses of another side to the ghost woman – a side that is kind and caring.
Farewell, Dorothy Parker is largely a comedy. It hits the mark with witty dialogue and hilarious circumstances. Delaney’s grandfather is particularly funny in many ways. But it also has its touching moments, where we learn about the painful pasts of each of the main characters. In learning about their hurt, it becomes even easier to empathize with them.
Even the characters that are obviously not supposed to be our favorites are written in such a way that you can see their human side. You still may never be particularly fond of them, but you can see where they’re coming from. There are no one dimensional characters in this book. Every one of them is the kind of person I could easily expect to run into out on the street.
Mrs. Meister did an excellent job of dropping in the necessary back story on each of the characters, giving us the tidbits we needed at just the right moment. There is always a clear distinction between present and past, yet it is still smoothly woven together to make a seamless story.
And as for Dorothy Parker: what can I say about the ghostly character that Meister created? She was great with a wisecrack, astonishingly perceptive, and almost brutally honest. She also had no problem manipulating a situation to either fit her own desires, or to achieve the effect that she knew Violet really wanted or needed. For a sometimes transparent character, Meister definitely made her very real.
Now I’ll answer the question that some of you are surely asking: Did Meister capture the essence of the real Dorothy Parker? First, let me say that the author freely admits in the acknowledgments that she took certain liberties with the facts of Mrs. Parker’s life, and states clearly that this is not intended as a factual account of her life.
However, after I finished the book, I did begin to do a little research into Mrs. Parker’s life. Although I did not research her as thoroughly as Meister did, I did research her enough to believe that the way Mrs. Parker was depicted in the story was fairly true to life. The image I formed of Dorothy Parker from reading the book, and the image that I formed based on the factual details I found meshed very well. I would say that Meister did an excellent job of bringing Dorothy Parker back to life on the pages of the book.
Dorothy Parker once said that she would never be famous because she never did anything. Obviously, she was wrong. What’s wonderful, though, is that thanks to Ellen Meister, Dorothy Parker can now become famous to a new generation of people – people who will now read and learn about her after reading Meister’s book.
Farewell, Dorothy Parker is a wonderfully written novel that will make you laugh, touch you gently, and bring to life a woman who, in many ways, should be an inspiration to all women. I would highly recommend it to all women, and to readers in general.
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