Complete Stories

By Dorothy Parker, Regina Barreca

2,565 ratings - 4.15* vote

As this complete collection of her short stories demonstrates, Dorothy Parker’s talents extended far beyond brash one-liners and clever rhymes. Her stories not only bring to life the urban milieu that was her bailiwick but lay bare the uncertainties and disappointments of ordinary people living ordinary lives.

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Book details

Paperback, 447 pages
December 31st 2002 by Penguin Classics

(first published 1924)

Original Title
Complete Stories
ISBN
0142437212 (ISBN13: 9780142437216)

Community Reviews

Madeline

For a very long time (read: just before finding this book) I wasn't completely sure that Dorothy Parker had ever written anything longer than a quote. I'd always sort of suspected that she was famous for drinking a lot and delivering devastating one-liners on a regular basis.

It was a delightful surprise, therefore, to find this collection and discover that, yes, Dorothy Parker did do a lot of writing - and not just one-liners. Many of these stories are wonderfully sarcastic (the best ones are about rich New Yorkers lamenting how terribly difficult their lives are) with great descriptions like this one:

"The apartment was of many rooms, each light, high, and honorably square. Each, with its furnishings, might one day be moved intact to the American wing of some museum, labeled, 'Room in Dwelling of Well-to-Do Merchant, New York, Circa Truman Administration'; and spectators, crowded behind the velvet rope which prevents their actual entrance, might murmur, according to their schools of thought, either, 'Ah, it's darling!' or else, 'Did people really live like that?'"

and of course, Parker's trademark lines are present as well:

"It was a big factor in Dr. Langham's success that she had the ability to make wet straws seem like sturdy logs to the nearly submerged."

(the best of these one-liners, I think, was in her piece titled "Men I'm Not Married To", where she describes each man in detail and reflects on their relationship; for Lloyd, however, she writes simply, "Lloyd wears washable neckties.")

But there's more than just funny short stories ridiculing the young, rich, shallow people that Parker apparently surrounded herself with. In addition, many of the stories are tragic and sad, most often dealing with miserable marriages and depressed housewives. The exception is "Clothe the Naked", which is about a poor black woman raising her dead daughter's blind son, and ends about as happily as you can expect a story like that to end.

All in all, a really good collection of alternately funny, biting, depressing, and beautiful stories. Particular favorites: "Professional Youth", "Little Curtis", "The Garter", "You Were Perfectly Fine", "But the One on the Right", "A Young Woman in Green Lace", and "From the Diary of a New York Lady."

Bloodorange

These are good, but were meant for magazine publication and reading in homeopathic doses.

Parker clearly likes describing awful people and situations in an ironic, very controlled way, but I don’t think I love it, at least definitely not en masse. Dark humour, drinking humour, sharp social observation – from racism (Arrangement in Black and White, 1927) to social climbers (“The steps in social ascent may be gauged by the terms employed to describe a man's informal evening dress: the progression goes Tuxedo, Tux, dinner jacket, Black Tie.” – The Game). The introduction by Regina Barecca is an interesting example of revisionism, presenting Parker as the unsung Great American Novelist Short Story Author.

Stories I liked best (I leafed through the last section, sketches):

* Big Blonde – a really good, depressing story of a Chandleresque female.
* Arrangement in Black and White
* From the Diary of a New York Lady – fab.
* Advice to the Little Peyton Girl - a classic
* Glory in the Daytime
* Cousin Larry
* Mrs. Hofstadter on Josephine Street – really funny
* The Custard Heart – horrid analysis of insensitivity.
* The Game – a veritable drawing-room thriller. I wasn't sure I was giving it four stars, but The Game settled it.
* Banquet of Crow - a story about a quack therapist/ personal coach, 'helping' her client get through being abandoned by a spouse. Still valid (like most of the observations about the ugliness of human nature in this book).

Sketchbook

Mrs Parker died , age 73, in 1967, on the cusp of Women's Lib. Rebecca Barreca, in an excellent intro, notes that her stories depict the effects of economical and spiritual poverty upon vulnerable women who received no education about the "real world" beyond fables grazing love & marriage - fables reflecting the '20s. Even though people don't change (much), the Parker viewpoint , I find, represents past decades, which is why George S Kaufman said, "Satire is what closes on Saturday night." Her writing, while always wickedly smart, has a "needinessy" and middle-brow melancholia that seems narrow today. Dot is either whiney or bitchy. By contrast Dawn Powell, who died unheralded, age 68, in 1965, continues to have a blazing modernity.

BAM Endlessly Booked

These stories are just incredible! I chose audio and the female narrator is superb. Although some of the language is dated, the situations are spot-on current. Just ageless tales. I especially enjoy the one-sided conversations.

Jen

Whew! I'm a born-again Parker fan. This collection of short stories is the editor's attempt to prove she deserves critical acclaim and inclusion in the male-centric literary canon, and I, for one, am sold!

Most of the included stories were written in the 1920s-40s, and they are an illuminating peek at the prevailing pretensions of the time - she skewers societal affectations as well as the battle between the sexes (and the unfortunate lack of open communication between them). "Too Bad," for example, starts with neighbors gossiping about a married couple that is separating - no one can guess that the reason why is that they are just too damn polite to one another and cannot imagine a lifetime of boredom. In "The Lovely Leave," a woman almost sabotages her visit with her military husband, who's on a short leave, because she misses him so much. Women are meant to be "good sports" to such a degree in "Big Blonde" that the protagonist, who usually is a tremendously good sport, becomes a suicidal alcoholic.

Parker has an amazingly sharp wit, and she points it at all the right people - Ugly Americans, cheating men, superficial women, etc. As the editor notes, "When Parker goes for the jugular, it's usually a vein with blue blood in it."

Nancy

Amusing, certainly, and the stories are evocative of their time, but they tend to the repetitive and the snide, somewhat sour humor grates eventually.

Miriam

So deliciously bitter. Bitter, bitter, bitter. Very funny, very mean. I read the intro last, and it had something to say that I had kind of started thinking about myself: people ("small" or "narrow"-minded critics) consider Parker's stories to be about "small" or "narrow" topics, but that's almost beside the point. They're about a small social world and a limited number of people, but they're about so much more. Like self-delusion and cruelty and passive-aggression and superficiality masquerading as substance. And she calls B.S. on all of it. Good for her. And so they're not small. They're about how people deal with their circumstances, and the stories are timeless. The figures she describes are recognizable instantly--add some cell phones and facebook and take away Prohibition, and it still reads the same. I don't know that that makes me like people any better, but it makes me appreciate the sharp observational skills of Dorothy Parker.

William Mego

I was oddly disappointed in this. Not in the quality of the writing, which is superb. The author sets out to accomplish a task, and the technique of writing is bent and twisted to her will, achieving her vision exactly as her mind's eye must have seen it. My complaint is simply with her intended effect. I didn't enjoy it.

So it's great writing, but I didn't care for the message. She was such a profoundly unhappy person, tormented by life's whims, being a women in the times she lived, the spectre of depression in an age without silver ribbons, and the cliched but never unfailingly tragic alcoholism she shared with so many of her profession. You can taste all this like a metallic spoon in the soup of her craft. For some, this will tinge it with naturalistic realism. For me, even sadness can still hold the promise of eventual hope. But you won't find it in these stories.

H. P. Reed

Ms. Parker's work, whether essays, stories or poetry are humor born of sadness, filled with sarcasm and pity for the human condition. "Big Blonde" shows us how women who made bad choices about men may have lived in the restrictive 1930's, but also calls to mind some of the bad choices celebrities make so messily in public today. Parker makes even the very private hell of a woman waiting for a man's telephone call both snarkily funny and shamingly familiar. Unlike James Thurber, Ms. Parker breathes no atmosphere of innocence. Her stories are informed by the hypocrisy, stupidity and ignorance of the human race. She suffered no fools gladly, not even the well-meaning ones. Her sharpness of vision and high ethical standards made her own life a constant misery, but they also made for incisive writing.

Vanessa

pithy vignettes of obnoxious people. becomes tedious if you read the stories together as a string--you are introduced to dolt after wanker, know them for 5 minutes, and then move on to the next daft character. it has the collective effect of being at a wretched cocktail party where you want to put all the guests on mute.

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