I have a copy of The Complete Works of Dorothy Parker on my bookshelves. I have not yet read it despite it inhabiting shelf space for years now. Instead, I mostly know Dorothy Parker for her reputation, her membership at the famed Algonquin Round Table, her witty and cutting one liners, and her eminently quotable and sarcastic truths. She is truly a legend, even for someone who hasn't read her more extensively. And although I can hardly claim her as one of my literary heroes without reading more of her work, I have always been drawn to her sass, attitude, and outsized chutzpah. The heroine of Ellen Meister's newest novel, Violet Epps, is also drawn to Parker and her confidence but Violet actually meets the ghost of her literary hero and all sorts of life changing shenanigans ensue in this wonderful and engaging tale.
Violet is a movie critic who is well known for her acerbic wit and high standards and if often likened to a modern day Dorothy Parker. But in her personal life, she is the most self-effacing, timid woman ever. She cannot even stand up for herself enough to tell the restaurant maitre-d' at the Algonquin Hotel that she is the next person waiting to be seated. Her steamroller of a boyfriend has no such qualms and throws Violet's recognizable name around too, resulting in the general manager of the hotel bringing the hotel's guest book, signed through the years by its most esteemed guests, including the wits from the Round Table, over to Violet for her to sign as well. But at this point all hell breaks loose and the small, ugly dog in Violet's purse breaks free, bites the deadbeat boyfriend, and scampers off. In chasing him out of the hotel, Violet mistakenly takes the guest book with her, a move that will change her forever because, you see, the ghost of Dorothy Parker lives on in the pages of that guest book, never having moved on to the next thing.
Until Violet brings home the guest book, she is fighting a custody battle for her orphaned niece with Delaney's grandparents and her inability to stand up for what she wants has her seriously in danger of losing this important battle. She is handicapped by paralyzing insecurity and shyness except in her writing and reviewing when she's channeling Dorothy Parker. But when the guest book is opened, the actual ghost of Parker materializes and Violet will have her heroine's help in finding her own voice and channeling the strength she needs to go after the things in life that she wants. The first thing that Mrs. Parker helps Violet do is finally, permanently to dump her narcissistic, user boyfriend Carl. And once over that hurdle, Violet gains the courage, helped along by the wise-cracking Parker, to face down her insubordinate, scheming work assistant, and to start to take control of the custody situation. She learns to stand up for herself and to go after what she wants, in the way she wants. Violet's transformation is by no means overnight and she and the ghost of Dorothy Parker have some go-rounds about the extent of ghostly interference and what is right for Violet. But this haunting causes her to examine her life, the way that she is living it, the root cause for her extreme and paralysing self-effacement, and the happiness to be found in standing up for what she wants, including with Michael, her yummy kung fu teacher. But power isn't the only gift that she is given by Mrs. Parker, she also learns to look past the superficial and to trust her insights into other people and situations, making her a more balanced person and writer.
This novel is both charming and humorous and the ways in which Dorothy Parker's ghost bulldozes mousy Violet can be highly entertaining but they can also cross the line, as fits Parker's reputation. Violet is coping with a lot of sadness and loss in her life and sometimes she just can't push as fast as the ghost wants her to. Although she can be a frustrating character, unable to speak out for herself or for her niece Delaney's good, she is still a character for whom the reader roots. And as she grows in confidence, finding her own core of strength, and becoming empowered, the reader roots for her even harder. Overcoming her own emotional baggage, which coupled with society's expectations of women as soft and yielding, Violet's story has a lesson for all women. We can be soft and yielding but when the situation calls for it, the steel core to that velvet facade must come to the fore because only we can advocate successfully for ourselves, our sisters, our daughters, our nieces. A fun, sassy, and deliciously quick read with some important deeper truths, readers will thoroughly enjoy this homage to Parker and perhaps be inspired to channel a little of her verve into their own lives.
Thanks to the publisher and author for sending me a copy of this book for review.