Farewell, Dorothy Parker

By Ellen Meister

(Penguin, $26.95, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

A  novelist who teaches creative writing at Hofstra University School of Continuing Education and runs an online group where she mentors aspiring women authors, Ellen Meister has published three other novels: “The Other Life,” “The Smart One” and “Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA.” She also has held editorial positions at literary journals.

What is this book about?

This is a what-if novel that will have special appeal to admirers of Dorothy Parker, the jazz-age movie critic, scathing journalist, light verse poet, brilliant short story writer and star of the famous Algonquin Round table of New York wits, who also was an alcoholic and seriously unlucky in love.

I count myself among her fans, and recall that while in college, the night before my dorm room was to be repainted, I happily Magic-Marker-ed the walls from ceiling to floor with some of my favorite Parker quotes. (No, I did not get expelled. We had permission to go graffiti-wild.)

The what-if of this novel is this: Suppose you also were a movie critic with a slashing style but timid as a mouse in real life, with a snotty assistant, bad boyfriend and a niece whose custody you were trying but failing to gain. And suppose the spirit of the formidable Ms. Parker came into your life and helped you to grow a spine. And then suppose you could not persuade her to go away? It’s a great set-up for a novel, and one that I suspect Parker herself would approve.

Why you’ll like it:

It’s not likely that anyone will ever surpass Parker herself in writing with a coruscating wit that doesn’t always mask a tender heart, but Meister gives it a go here and does a fine job. Parker was bitingly clever, but she also had the strength to express sadness, even pathos, in her writing, and this novel also blends humor and poignancy in a powerful way.

What others are saying:

“Meister honors Dorothy Parker, her still-fresh political convictions, and her body of witty, insightful work in this very nice literary romp…. Parker was the perfect New Yorker: sharp, witty and eminently quotable. And it is clear that Meister had a lot of responsible fun paying tribute to her,” says Bookreporter.

“What bliss to be in the company of a reimagined Dorothy Parker!  Ellen Meister’s wonderful novel delivers the wit, ingenuity and elegiac sass worthy of the Algonquin Table’s most quoted member. Long live Dorothy Parker and her zingers, resurrected so winningly in these pages,” says author Elinor Lipman.

Publishers Weekly says: “Meister casts Dorothy Parker as a blithe spirit in her fanciful third novel…). Though movie critic Violet Epps has become famous for her scathing no-holds-barred wit, off the page, Violet is “held captive by her own timidity”; she can’t seem to dump her freeloading boyfriend, her assistant walks all over her, and she rarely accepts social invitations. Worst of all, this shyness has resulted in her being denied temporary custody of her recently orphaned 13-year-old niece, just when the girl needs her “Aunt V” the most. A fateful dinner at the Algonquin Hotel (one-time Parker hangout) ends with Violet becoming haunted by the spirit of her greatest influence. The acid-tongued, gin-swilling ghost immediately sets to meddling in Violet’s affairs….With Parker’s help, Violet takes risks at work, connects with a new man, and finds the courage to make an impassioned plea for custody of her niece. With Violet’s help, Parker’s spirit may finally find peace. Meister skillfully translates the rapier-like wit of the Algonquin Round Table to modern-day New York. There are no shocking twists, but pathos, nuanced characters, plenty of rapid-fire one-liners, and a heart-rending denouement.”

Says Kirkus Reviews: The ghost of the eponymous 20th-century wit visits a present-day movie reviewer who lacks Parker’s backbone in this mix of comedy and tear-jerker from Meister …Violet displays a pungent wit as a writer of reviews, but in her personal life, she’s a wimp, and her paralyzing anxiety may cost her. …Then, she visits the Algonquin Hotel and ends up walking out with a guest book signed by all the literary luminaries. When she opens the books, she releases the spirit of Dorothy Parker, who has chosen not to follow “the white light,” preferring to hang around drinking and making clever witticisms…Dorothy befriends Violet, giving her advice and occasionally literally taking over her body, causing Violet to behave uncharacteristically to say the least….. But can Dorothy’s helpfulness go too far? As self-empowerment romantic comedies go, this perfectly pleasant one hits all the predictable marks.

“In this funny yet tender homage to Dorothy Parker, Meister’s fourth …resurrects the iconic wit of the literary legend. Violet Epps tiptoes through life wearing her anxiety and deference to others like a shield…. Little does Violet realize that along with the Algonguin Hotel guest book that she impulsively stole and that is signed by her idol comes the spectral Mrs. Parker. Coached (and sometimes possessed!) by Mrs. Parker, Violet practices finding her voice and putting her past to rest so that she can fully face her future. VERDICT With a breezy and engaging writing style complete with Parkeresque banter, Meister’s book can be forgiven a slightly predictable storyline. Realizing how it will end takes no pleasure from the reading, and the blend of romance and family drama with a hint of the paranormal has broad appeal,” says Library Journal.

When is it available?

You can say hello to “Farewell, Dorothy Parker’ at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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