Dorothy Parker, The Portable Dorothy Parker
A collection of criticism, poetry, and fiction from the acid-tongued master of cultivated snark
The Algonquin Roundtable — the artsy-smartsy clique that nurtured the likes of Robert Benchley, Robert E. Sherwood, George S. Kaufman, et. al — was also sometimes known by a more apt alias: The Vicious Circle. Indeed, the group often made a game of sharp wit and diamond-tipped snark, each one-upping the next with clever swordsmanship. And, it is said, few could go toe-to-toe with the infinitely quotable Dorothy Parker, a mostly self-educated Jersey girl who could twist English idioms like saltwater taffy. (“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly,” she famously quipped about some unsuspecting book du jour, “It should be thrown with great force.”) The Portable Dorothy Parker collects some of the author’s comically incisive critical works, but the bulk and the beauty of this revised volume is her fiction and poetry. Turns out Parker was, yes, an unrepentant social evaluator but not an altogether uncaring one. Her subjects, be they the smug wine-and-cheese liberals of “Argument in Black and White” or the road-tested party girl of “Big Blonde,” are as sympathetic as they are repulsive. Their hearts are somewhere near the right place, even if their brains are kinda M.I.A. As Marion Meade explains in the intro, Parker was a conflicted soul, somebody whose writing could be buoyant and bright, even while exploring her own depression and addiction. You can even find veins of optimism in her words, like when she opted to recount her suicide attempts in rhyming verse: “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.” Dark, yes, but also funny as hell. It’s okay to laugh, that’s the point.