Monday, March 25, 2013

Not much Dorothy to say "farewell" to

FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER by Ellen Meister turns out to be chick lit. I'm starting this review with a disclaimer that chick lit is not normally what I read. It is possible that this is wonderful for chick lit. I was drawn to this title by the promise of Dorothy Parker's influence on a modern movie critic, Violet Epps, who is witty and confident in print, but a disaster in real life. Doesn't that sound fun? The book promises that the spirit of Dorothy Parker will help Violet find her voice and blah blah blah. At the same time, Dorothy Parker will blah blah blah until she is finally ready to go toward the light and blah blah blah.

Where do I start? I disliked Violet. No, 'dislike' is too strong a word. I didn't particularly care about Violet, because she's not a fully realized character. She has a few "defining moments" in her past that are summarized for the reader, which I believe are meant to evoke sympathy. The explanation for her social anxiety is facile and, frankly, insulting, and a genuine depiction of a character suffering from such would have been much more sympathetic. Instead, we have a tacked-on reason why the "heroine" has so much trouble asserting herself outside her movie reviews, and naturally, she must confront that "reason" before the end of the novel and blah blah blah. At one point, Violet is reviewing a sappy film and comments, "I said a little prayer I save for these moments: Please, surprise me. In fact, I wound up saying that prayer about a dozen times during this movie. It was never answered." I could not have said it better myself. The premise of this novel had such promise, but instead of being caught in a refreshing breeze, I had to plod against the current of its predictability to finally, thankfully, reach the predictable end.

Violet has so much going on in her life. Her only sister died a year before. She is involved in a custody battle for Delaney, her thirteen-year-old niece. Her boyfriend is a jackass. She has a lame backstory to explain her social anxiety. A new intern at work is out to get her. I can see why she needs Dorothy's help. But even with Dorothy coaching her, Violet is reluctant to stand up for herself, long past the point of believability. I'm surprised Dorothy didn't tell her to grow a pair (or some more 1920s-ish idiom) and stop wasting her time. When Violet finally throws over the jackass boyfriend, I was relieved rather than triumphant. Check that box off the list of requisite plot developments and move on to the next one. Her plot with Dorothy to gain custody of Delaney is briefly a bright spot in the book: "'You simply explain to him that if he and his darling, long-suffering wife don't drop the case, you will have no choice but to tell her about the affair.' 'That's almost blackmail,' Violet said. 'No, my dear. That is blackmail.'" Then we go back to the main point of the book: Violet needs a better boyfriend. Yes, that's what I want to teach my daughter: become a strong woman so you can dump the jerk and get a nice man.

If you're drawn to this title as a Dorothy Parker fan (as I was), I suggest skipping it and rereading some of Parker's writings and Meade's biography WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS? The Dorothy in this book, along with every other character, is sketched lightly with a number two pencil and colored strictly within the lines. I was (obviously) disappointed in this novel's lack of depth, but since I don't really read chick lit, I'm not sure if that's a genre failure or particular to this novel.

Source disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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