I am probably being overly generous with my starrage – three stars on Goodreads – as I adore what Ellen Meister has done with the Dorothy Parker page on facebook. Seems a weird thing to say (or do), but I follow a number of dead authors on social media. I follow some live ones too, but they tend to be overly chatty for my tastes, and the dead aren’t so much interested in getting you to buy their books. Some of the goodness of the Parker page has to do with Parker’s twitter-ready style; were she alive today, she would have burned up social media.
“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.”
“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.”
“This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”
“Ducking for apples — change one letter and it’s the story of my life.”
But Meister is to be credited with really fabulous curation of Parker’s jabs and epigrams, along with the occasional longer form bit. Writing such as:
I think I knew first what side I was on when I was about five years old, at which time nobody was safe from buffaloes. It was in a brownstone house in New York, and there was a blizzard, and my rich aunt—a horrible woman then and now—had come to visit. I remember going to the window and seeing the street with the men shovelling snow; their hands were purple on their shovels, and their feet were wrapped with burlap. And my aunt, looking over my shoulder, said, “Now isn’t it nice there’s this blizzard. All those men have work.” And I knew then that it was not nice that men could work for their lives only in desperate weather, that there was no work for them when it was fair.
Which I had never seen, while Parker’s more epigrammatic cut-downs are more ambient and recognizable. Apparently, Meister has written a novel inspired? influenced? by Parker called Farewell, Dorothy Parker, and in the run up to publication early next year, she offered this little story for free. I bit.
I still think I want to read the Parker novel, because the writing on a technical level was good, and I think given a subject she obviously knows a good deal about, Meister might actually say something in the novel. The Wishing Cakewas far too slight, with too many moving parts and not enough finish. (Ugh, what is that previous sentence about? You suck at the epigrammatic cut-down, Ceridwen.) In a vaguely It’s a Wonderful Life style scenario, a Brooklyn baker is given wishing powder. She wishes herself a man, and then poof! She’s a man. Some things ensue with her shitheel of a boss.
It’s far too easy to spoil the plot of a story this short, so I’m left being unable to complain about…certain things. The gender change is treated really bathetically, with a failed pissing scene rolling into beers with a dude that made me cringe for the characterization of dudes. The various asides about language use between the sexes weren’t bad, but overall the treatment seemed rom-comedy-esque. To phrase it poorly yet again; God. I didn’t get the deal with the older couple, or their fish/deity, and certain characters were set up too well as shitsnacks for me to believe the 26-page redemption. Altogether, I wish there were more story here, which is occasionally a good thing to want, but not so when the lacunae crater motivation and catharsis.
Really though, I suspect my problem might be one of being a genre reader in my little cranky, black heart. A gender change in a science fiction or spec fic story is going to be treated a certain way, maybe not always seriously, but with a sense to the larger ramifications. (Whether I agree with the larger ramifications is entirely a separate issue, of course.) In pop fiction, you end up with more nut shots and worn observations about the genders, with a little gay-panic romance thrown in for fun. You know, like Just One of the Guysor Mrs. Doubtfire or Tootsie. Which, blah. I pretty much hate that shit forever. But! I get that this is mostly my feminist hang-ups talking, and cheesy topicality seems to play for people who are not crank nerd feminists. Well, I seem to have found my epigrammatic bitch-face after all.
So, anyway, I will adjust my expectations of Farewell, Dorothy Parkeraccordingly, which is probably a good effect of reading this story. I will continue to love Meister’s work on the Dorothy Parker page, because she’s very good there. I find the ability or failure of writers to work within various media pretty interesting – I like John Scalzi a ton more as a blogger than a novelist, but I pretty much want to murder his Twitter feed – and Meister might be more like Parker – memorable in the shortest form, and forgettable at the long. Which is again a bitchy thing to say, and I’m sorry. I might be a bang-up review writer and a failure at every other thing I set to paper, so at least there’s that.