Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker

Parker stories cover

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, and not much else.

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 one-liners 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.”

Verdict: four out of five stars


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