(from the archives)
Reviewed by Quinn Cummings
Quinn Cummings is the author of Notes from the Underwire: Adventures From My Awkward and Lovely Life.
The Portable Dorothy Parker
I don't know why short stories have withered as an art form. Really, they couldn't be more modern. All the pleasure of eavesdropping on the table behind you, only with a good editor. In the modern arena where we're all gladiators competing to see who has the shortest attention span and the most to do, what could be better than a beginning,a middle and an end in the time it takes the plumber to snake the bathroom drain?
And if you're going to read short stories, you're going to want to read Dorothy Parker. Even if you don't think you know Dorothy Parker, I'll bet you do. Men don't make passes...
If you just thought, ...at girls who wear glasses, you know a little Dorothy Parker. If you're a bookish type (And we know you are; you're reading this) you probably know she wrote for The New Yorker and the Constant Reader, was the Clever Girl in Manhattan in the 20's and 30's, was the Hermione Granger at the Algonquin Round Table.
Some of her stories are funny. Some are snorting-into-your-sleeve funny; my mother gave me "The Waltz" to read when I was eleven and I can't think of a better gateway drug to Ms. Parker. "From the Diary of a New York Lady" gleefully exposes the stupidity and lack of self-awareness of a society dame, some primordial Paris Hilton. But while I've never turned down Dorothy in high humor, the stories which have stayed with me were her more serious stories, which inevitably circle around how people, knowingly and unknowingly, hurt one another. Her serious short stories have the precision of Flaubert and the scrupulous attention to detail of an autopsy. I don't wish people pain, so I'm not pleased Ms. Parker had a well-documented difficult romantic life. Having said that, there have been times in my dating life where I thought back to some moment or sentence from a story of hers and thought, "Oh. That's what she was talking about" and felt oddly mollified if not exactly happy. Her stories are clear and bright, very much of their era but also timeless. They are excellent company which fits in your purse.