Published by Berkley
Publication date: December 3rd 2013
Have you ever played the history game where you can choose points in history you’d like to visit? For me, the era of the Algonquin Round Table in Manhattan is one such time. Men of great wit and intelligence drinking cocktails and being dominated by one of the greatest wits of all: Dorothy Parker. Given that choice, finding Ellen Meister’s novel, Farewell, Dorothy Parker was an early Christmas present.
Violet Epps is a movie critic whose writing is as sharp and honest as her personality is meek and mild. She struggles mightily to break off a relationship with a narcissistic moocher who main incentive is free rent. It is only when she meets him at the Algonquin Hotel and the manager brings over the guest book for her to sign that she encounters the woman who’s going to give her the spine she’s never had. It is as Violet runs her finger over the famous signature that she first encounters the spirit of Dorothy Parker, who has been locked within the book, thanks to a spell cast by the hotel’s original manager. Apparently she is desperately bored and ready for a drink and when she responds to Violet’s touch over her name she breaks free, entering Violet and getting her to dash out of the hotel with the book.
People of every generation seemed to think their contemporaries practically invented swear words, but Dorothy Parker and her friends were dropping the f-bomb way back in the 1920s.
Apparently, being possessed by a spirit is not as much fun as it might sound because it makes Violet violently ill but when she recovers in her apartment, she reopens the book and Parker takes physical form in the room. When the book is open she can appear but when it is closed she goes back to a limbo where she waits for the next opportunity to return. This manifestation leads to numerous gin and tonics and brisk lessons from Parker to Violet on how to assert herself. A lesson Violet sorely needs as she is trying to get custody of her niece after her sister’s death but is being fought by the paternal grandparents who think she is too flighty to be a guardian. She’s also battling a young administrative assistant who takes it upon herself to re-write (read massacre) one of Violet’s reviews and put it in the magazine under Violet’s name.
Farewell, Dorothy Parker is fun reading and then some. It is not just a humorous fantasy about Dorothy Parker living in your apartment and prompting you to do and say things you might not do or say (although that happens and is hilarious). Using prose that balances between humor and pain Meister creates a novel dealing with real-life issues while wrapped in a comedic blanket. I mentioned it was like an early Christmas present and it was—bright, shiny, unexpected, and made me smile.
What’s one time in history you’d like to visit?