Jul 7, 2006

Best in small doses

Seamus Sweeney doesn't "get" Dorothy Parker.
I gave Dorothy Parker every chance. I read, stoney-faced, the supposed witticisms of the Algonquin Round Table (I can imagine few circles of hell more unbearable than that company, with everyone competing, it seems, to say something witty and clever), the verse "a kind of dilution of A. E. Housman and Edna Millay" as Edmund Wilson put it whenever it tries to be more than the light, strained wit of the book reviews.
I, on the other hand, always loved the one-liners:
A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.

It's the actual substance of Parker that I can't stand. My distaste began when a friend lent me a copy of Parker's short stories. I found "Big Blonde," often cited as her masterpiece, particularly revolting--pure unadulterated bathos.

It turns out that the heroine of that tale, "an alcoholic, serial mistress," was a stand in for Parker. Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, in which Jennifer Jason Leigh annoys the shit out of everyone by speaking with a strange lock-jawed transatlantic accent that evidently was an imitation of Parker's, confirmed it. Outside of a couple of witty one-liners, Mrs. Parker was a bore, a weepy drunk who was ashamed of her Jewish roots.

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