Friday, 22 February 2013 00:00Violet Epps, the 37-year-old protagonist in Ellen Meister’s just-published novel, Farewell, Dorothy Parker, needs to channel her inner b____, and the late Dorothy Parker’s often-inebriated ghost takes Epps under her wing to help Epps do just that.
Meister, a married mother of three who resides in Jericho, will be promoting her fourth novel with appearances on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 4 p.m., at Huntington’s Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., and on Friday, March 1, at 7 p.m., at Barnes & Noble, 91 Old Country Road, Carle Place.
The narrative device Meister conjures up—the idea that the late writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) could return, albeit in spirit, to inspire a modern-day woman to be more assertive in all aspects of her life—works surprisingly well. And the author definitely knows every facet of Parker’s biography, effectively weaving many of the famed Algonquin Round Table member’s actual life experiences into the many challenges the fictional Epps faces. In the 1920s, New York City’s Algonquin Hotel regularly hosted a luncheon attended by the era’s top writers and editors, and Parker was one of the Table’s most celebrated members.
Set primarily on Long Island, the story focuses on Epps, a divorced woman who has found professional success as a movie critic at Enjoy magazine, reaching millions of Americans each week with a publication that sounds comparable to US Weekly. Yet Epps cannot translate the moxie evident in her written words into the concrete actions needed to bolster her day-to-day life, where office politics, a bitter custody battle, and the prospect of romance looms with her kung fu instructor, a fellow named Michael from Plainview.
Parker’s ghost provides wise counsel to Epps on how she should address all of these matters, and the late writer is able to launch an endless series of entertaining observations and one-liners while consuming more alcohol than a frat house on a Saturday night. Epps’ enemies at Enjoy, the grandparents who want sole custody of Violet’s 13-year-old niece, and Michael, the martial arts expert, have no idea what they’re in for when Parker’s various game plans are set into motion. The action only slows down when Parker’s ghost runs out of gas near the end of the book, perhaps because her heightened blood alcohol level has rendered Parker speechless.
Meister also keeps Parker’s spirit alive on Facebook, where the novelist launched a Dorothy Parker Fan Page that has attracted nearly 70,000 followers, making Parker the “liveliest dead author” on Facebook, according to G.P. Putnam’s Sons, the book’s publisher.
“I always suspected there were legions of Dorothy Parker fans out there, and finding so many of them has been a singular joy,” Meister said. “Best of all, the page has become a community—a place where smart, literate people can connect to enjoy a national treasure.”
In addition, Meister teaches creative writing at Hofstra University School of Continuing Education and runs an online group where she mentors aspiring women authors.
One minor complaint about Farewell, Dorothy Parker: I read fiction to escape current events so I groaned audibly when Parker’s ghost got teary-eyed in one scene upon recounting Barack Obama’s victorious 2008 presidential campaign. I was wondering why Parker would be crying about that turn of events, and then it occurred to me that Parker’s ghost is probably earning at least $250,000 a year.
Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net