Biting Satire in PARKER: SELECTED STORIES http://fangswandsandfairydust.com/201...
The work of the late Dorothy Parker read by the late Elaine Stritch is a match made, possibly literally, in heaven.
As I love to read and listen to books, and studied English Lit in college, I had long heard of Dorothy Parker. And as a fan of Broadway, of course I know about Elaine Stritch. But, I had never, in my memory read something by Parker. Her prose is perfect in detail and descriptive qualities, but it is economical but not too spare. For example, “She was never noticeably drunk, and seldom nearly sober,” describes a middle-aged ex-party girl in “Big Blonde.” And, in “The Shirt” about one society woman’s philanthropic endeavor in sewing shirts for casualties “Mrs. Martindales’s breasts were admirable, delicate yet firm, pointing one to the right, one to the left: angry at each other as the Russians have it.” I did not really understand if this was a satire of women;s organizations at he start of WWII, or a sarcastic poke at her activities at sewing these shirts, or perhaps a rare case of Parker treating a character kindly. “From the Diary of a Lady” is the most perfect dissection of the life of a Manhattan Socialite, describing her with as much finesse, but less device as would Jane Austen.
Sometimes the story is cryptic, requiring that one had lived in that time or society; I found this with “Too Bad,” a story about society couples trying to understand one of their set separating, while going about their own empty marriages. In part it’s hard to imagine anyone being this concerned about anyone divorcing and seems a bit silly out of its historical context. The time period of these are mostly 1930-1947ish. Time and place, meaning Manhattan, are both important to the book.
Some of the stories are dark, with the history of the writers who were part of Parker’s set, I don’t know why I was surprised by this. I was expecting more of an American, female P.G. Wodehouse (funny since she filled in for him at Vanity Fair). such as the one where a business man has an affair with an unattractive secretary we, and unfortunately not the secretary, get to see him as a misogynist.
My favorite story was “The Garter.” It’s written in the first person and, I believe, is really Parker writing about herself. A girl at a party has a broken garter and is terribly embarrassed so, instead of moving, her thoughts devolves what she’ll have to do – sit in the chair she is occupying at a party until the end of time. It’s treated as if the very worst has happened. She believes she can only sit there holding her stocking up by hand. It’s obviously a dart being thrown at the change in clothes but without the allowance for wardrobe malfunctions. She sums up her wisdom with “Never trust a round garter or a wall street man.”
Stritch’s voice had the rasp of cigarettes — lots of cigarettes — but with her innate abilities as an actress who often played sarcastic characters she really gets it all, the characters, the rhythm, the punctuation. She really gets Parker’s, as well as the characters’, voices. I really can’t say how much I loved hearing Elaine Stritch read these stories. This is one instance where the persona reading the stories is as important as the stories themselves.
At a little over three hours, this is a good choice for someone who wants a short audiobook. It could be an easy to digest introduction to early to mid 20th century American Literature.