Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The Poetry & Short Stories of Dorothy Parker
The minute I joined the Short Story Reading Challenge, I knew I wanted to read some Dorothy Parker. My introduction to Parker came in college in a literature class. We were assigned at various points two short stories. One was "Telephone Call" and the second was "The Waltz." These two remain my favorite of the ones I've read, but I would still recommend this whole collection. It contains 24 short stories by Dorothy Parker. These stories were originally published in 1939 under the title Here Lies.
What I love about Parker is how she portrays humanity--the good, the bad, the ugly. She captures nuances of humanity both personal and social. (Whether she's documenting the tortured, lonely soul or capturing the hidden layers of a relationship between two friends or two lovers or even the strain of family life.) The stories often contain commentary on social aspects of life--race, class, sex, etc.
Short stories include: "Arrangement in Black and White," "The Sexes," "The Wonderful Old Gentleman," "A Telephone Call," "Here We Are," "Lady With A Lamp," "Too Bad," "Mr. Durant," "Just A Little One," "Horsie," "Clothe the Naked," "The Waltz," "Little Curtis," "The Little Hours," "Big Blonde," "From the Diary of A New York Lady," "Soldiers of the Republic," "Dusk Before Fireworks," "New York to Detroit," "Glory in the Daytime," "The Last Tea," "Sentiment," "You Were Perfectly Fine," and "The Custard Heart."
I know I can't possibly hope to capture my reaction to all of the stories. I would have had to have been taking notes as I read each one. But I hope I can convey how much I appreciated the humanity, the attention to detail, the characterization. All the little things that added up to make each story work as a whole.
Here's how The Wonderful Old Gentleman begins, "If the Bains had striven for years, they could have been no more successful in making their living room into a small but admirably complete museum of objects suggesting strain, discomfort, or the tomb." (p. 241) Isn't that a great way to start a story? Isn't that a great hook? It continues a paragraph later, "It was as if they had all been selected by a single enthusiast to whom time was but little object, so long as he could achieve the eventual result of transforming the Bain living room into a home chamber of horrors, modified a bit for family use."
And here's the frantic but memorable beginning to "A Telephone Call," "Please, God let him telephone me now. Dear God, let him call me now. I won't ask anything else of You, truly I won't. It isn't very much to ask. It would be so little to You, God, such a little, little thing. Only let him telephone now. Please, God. Please, please, please." (254)
And perhaps my favorite, "The Waltz." "Why thank you so much. I'd adore to. I don't want to dance with him. I don't want to dance with anybody. And even if I did, it wouldn't be him. He'd be well down among the last ten. I've seen the way he dances; it looks like something you do on Saint Walpurgis Night. Just think, not a quarter of an hour ago, here I was sitting, feeling so sorry for the poor girl he was dancing with. And now I'm going to be the poor girl. Well, well. Isn't it a small world." (335)
The way she uses language (or she used language as the case may be) is such that it captures a time, a place, a feeling. It is like a photograph of the soul. Capturing the insanity, the loneliness, the confusion, the hope, whatever the feeling--whatever the situation. She's got it captured authentically in print.
Now a brief word about the poetry. The poetry was originally published in several volumes: Enough Rope, Sunset Gun, and Death and Taxes and Other Poems. While I didn't love every poem, I enjoyed enough of the poems to recommend it to others. I liked a good many. And there were a few that were just right. Perhaps I'll use a few in the upcoming weeks for Poetry Friday.