Before there was Carrie Bradshaw writing her column for Sex And...

Thu, 03/06/2008 - 2:17pm -- KChin

Before there was Carrie Bradshaw writing her column for Sex And the City, there was Dorothy Parker.  As early as the 1920’s Parker was writing sexy, sardonic, stilletto-tipped stories about the battle of the sexes for such respected magazines as Vogue and Vanity Fair.  In Parker’s ascerbic world, the women usually come across looking obsessive, silly, and shallow; but the men, shown usually as either clueless or feckless, don’t fare very much better.

Although many of the stories in Dorothy Parker: Complete Stories were written during the Depression or other difficult economic times, most of Parker’s characters are well-heeled and tend to worry more about where to find the perfect martini than whether they can make their mortgage payments. The women in many of her stories obsess about their weight, their social status, even their wall coverings,with the same intensity that others might reserve for high moral or ethical questions.  But in some of these stories there are women facing genuinely emotional struggles.

For example, in Horsie, Parker is able to describe the life of quiet desperation lived by a lonely woman who has spent all her life serving the needs of the privileged “bright young things” who make fun of her behind her back.  In The Big Blonde Parker carefully crafts a story of a blowsy blonde woman who is never allowed to express any sadness or regret to her numerous male companions; but instead is continually exhorted to be a “good sport” and look on the bright side. 

One of Parker’s most famous stories is A Telephone Call, in which within just a few pages she manages to perfectly capture the frantic, compulsive behavior and thoughts of a woman, desperate to hear from her lover:

This is the last time I’ll look at the clock. I will not look again. It’s ten minutes to seven. He said he would telephone at five o'clock. ‘I’ll call you at five, darling’. I think that’s where he said, 'darling’. I know he called me darling twice, and the other time was when he said goodbye, 'good-bye, darling;. He was busy, and he can’t say much in the office, but he called me 'darling’ twice. He couldn’t have minded me calling him up. I know you shouldn’t keep calling them-I know they don’t like that. When you do that they know you are thinking about them and wanting them, and that makes them hate you… ”

Well, you know the woman is dying to call the man, struggling not to, and will inevitably give in, much to her detriment.  It’s tense, excrutiating, and very real.

Parker was often on the side of the underdog, so much so that in the 50’s her association with various worker’s groups landed her on the blacklist for “unamerican activities."  Yet she continued to work and to aim her pen at all that she considered foolish, vain, and selfish in American society, particularly the upper classes and the idle rich.  Reading her collected stories is great fun, like overhearing a rather tart-tongued guest offer blistering attacks on a smug, conceited hostess.  You wish you could think of such bon mots yourself, but the next best thing is stifling a guilty giggle when you hear someone else say them!

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