The Reading Season: Dorothy Parker

To read Dorothy Parker is to feel sad, then glad her short stories are such rare jewels. She battled alcohol addiction and suffered so many suicide attempts – but those short stories are sublime. “Big Blonde” always stands out. And you will feel sad and that was Dorothy’s way. Always ‘living off the calls’, ‘trying to stay cute’ and not wanting to cry.

If Dawn Powell persevered – in fact her last diary entry contained two words, “I will…” not so with Dorothy, she was destined to feel tormented by men, in particular and life, in general. So she wrote some of the most touching verse – when she wasn’t in her default mode which could be scathing. Especially with those reviews.

But oh, those poems.

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you’re his,

Shivering and sighing,

And he vows his passion is

Infiinate, undying –

Lady, make a note of this:

One of you is lying

This one is called ‘Resume’

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

Dawn Powell focused her wit on books, Dorothy Parker, her poems and short stories. But what’s most compelling as I revisit each author this summer, was how these two women wrote about other women. Always two women deep in conversation, often over drinks, before heading out to a party or just returning home. So intimate and realistic, their fears and weary attitude are real. You’re at the table, or on the couch, you’re there and you believe every word.

Powell and Parker had many affairs along the way. They partied hard and they worked even harder. Dawn fought hard to get that $500 advance for her book each year and both had to fend for themselves. Dorothy was surrounded by men at the Algonquin Table, “trying to stay cute” as she used to say. They both took time out to venture to Hollywood, that’s where the money was….to work on those scripts that paid writers so well. But they both hated it, they weren’t unique but they both complained about the Californian sun – each said the heat threw them on their backs.

New York was their playground even if the sandbox was rough. We all know the cautionary tale of the Algonquin Table, just about every single writer drank themselves to death at an early age. Dawn Powell kept busy with an autistic son, she had bills to pay, and the rent, yet never complained.

Dawn didn’t seem to mind, she was happy to escape the middle of the America. Whereas Dorothy did. But what a great way to waste away a summer afternoon, reading Powell and Parker. They were fierce and they were truth-tellers – where are the truth tellers of today?

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