Bottom Line: A simple, charming story that introduces new generations to Ms. Parker’s quips and strong personality.
“When it comes to movie reviews, critic Violet Epps is a powerhouse voice. But that’s only because she’s learned to channel her literary hero, Dorothy Parker, the most celebrated and scathing wit of the 20th century.If only Violet could summon that kind of courage in her personal life.Determined to defeat her social anxiety, Violet visits the Algonquin Hotel to pull strength from the hallowed dining room, where Dorothy Parker and so many other famous writers of the 1920s traded barbs. But she gets more than she bargained for when Dorothy Parker’s feisty spirit rematerializes from an ancient guestbook and hitches a ride onto her life.Violet is shocked and thrilled to be face-to-face with her idol, but when the gin-swilling writer takes up residence in her home and grows pricklier and more outspoken by the day, the timid movie critic is pushed to her limit. With her job threatened, her new relationship in tatters, and the custody fight for her orphaned niece in jeopardy, Violet is forced to face her fears …and she makes sure Mrs. Parker does the same.”
Thoughts: Dorothy Parker may not be familiar with modern audiences today, although her anecdotes or quotes may be. However, that will all change as Ellen Meister reintroduces this remarkable woman in her latest novel, Farewell, Dorothy Parker. The story revolves around Violet, a modern-day movie critic known for her strong opinions and brutal reviews but completely incapable of vocalizing them in person. However, it is Ms. Parker’s appearance as a ghost and Violet’s mentor that become the highlight of the novel. For, as silent as Violet is, Ms. Parker has more than enough gumption for the both of them, and she is only too willing to share her insights with her new hostess. As one can imagine with a ghost as unrestrained as Ms. Parker, hijinks ensue as Violet learns more than one lesson from her idol.
Violet Epps will resonate with many readers – those who struggle with social anxiety, feel their voices are stifled, or know that they need to learn to speak up for themselves more often. Unfortunately, she is also the type of character that brings out my inner bully. Having gotten over my social anxiety issues in my 30s and having never had any problem sharing my opinions or speaking my mind, I personally struggle with someone who avoids saying anything remotely adversarial. In fact, I have a tendency to feel disgust at those who only seek to avoid conflict. While it is not the most admirable personality trait, it is something I recognize about myself and work to contain – at least in public. Regrettably, Violet is the type of person I would actively avoid in real life, specifically in the beginning when she is silencing her inner voice as well as her public one. This caused me more than a semblance of irritation towards Violet. Even though my level of discomfort about her weaknesses did diminish as she started to overcome her innate silence, she is one character with whom I could not empathize, no matter how much I tried to put myself into her shoes. While this did not ruin the novel for me, it did take me a bit longer to settle into the story and accept it for what it is.
Whereas Violet was an annoying pushover, Dorothy Parker is/was the exact opposite and exactly the antidote necessary to lighten the remarkable levels of self-pity Violet obtains throughout the story. Even if most of Ms. Parker is fiction envisioned by Ms. Meister’s admiration of her, she is still a remarkable figure and role model for women. Her unwillingness to follow societal norms, her refusal to remain silent about her opinions, and her strong belief in backing her words with actions made her a formidable woman in the 1920s, let alone in today’s era. She simply steals the scenes in which she appears, and the entire novel has a vibrancy to it that would have been lacking without her. Violet is not the only woman who could stand to learn one or two things from Ms. Parker.
Regardless of one’s opinions about either character, Farewell, Dorothy Parker is one novel that is guaranteed to create a wealth of emotions within a reader. Strong voice or not, the emotional trauma Violet has had to face in a short period of time will cater to even the most unsympathetic reader. In addition, Ms. Parker’s antics are so outrageous that she will make even the sternest of audiences smile or at least shake their heads in amused disbelief. As Violet grows into her own voice and confronts her fears, all readers will cheer her successes, mourn her losses, and feel righteous anger at any injustices. It is a testament to Ms. Meister’s writing ability that she can create two polarizing characters and force the coldest of readers to become emotionally involved in the story at some point throughout its narration.
Farewell, Dorothy Parker has all of the elements of women’s fiction, but Ms. Parker’s notorious wit, imagined and portrayed remarkably well by Ms. Meister, prevents the novel from becoming overly saccharine. Violet is enjoyable, even as some of her more downtrodden moments are frustrating for any reader with a Type A personality. Ms. Parker is what makes the story sparkle though, as she infuses a breath of levity and common sense into a story that easily borders on the clichéd. The fairy tale ending comes as no surprise but is still satisfactory, making the entire story a great way to spend an afternoon.