Farewell, Dorothy Parker (2013) by Ellen Meister is a delightful high-concept, what-if sort of novel. What if Dorothy Parker came back as a ghost and took to mentoring a movie critic who is fearless in her reviews but can't translate that spunk into her personal life?
Violet Epps lets her personal and work life get out of hand. She can't seem to stop her truly awful boyfriend from moving in with her, she is faced with gross insubordination from an employee, and most important, she isn't assertive enough to win custody of her niece, Delaney, whose parents were killed in an auto accident in which she was badly injured. After getting the teenager through the worst of this wrenching crisis, Violet loses temporary custody to the girl's grandparents. Delaney is crushed and regressing.
Lunching at the Algonquin one day, Violet discovers that when the hotel's guest book is opened to the page on which Dorothy Parker signed her name, Mrs Parker's ghost is let free. Violet steals the book.
In a series of sometimes touching and sometimes hilarious scenes, Mrs Parker does a prodigous amount of drinking (though perhaps no more than she did while alive) and advises Violet to be more assertive, not to say aggresive. With the help of her ghostly mentor, Violet convinces the deadbeat boyfriend their affair is over. This leaves her free to date the good-looking and sweet-natured martial arts instructor she has a crush on. But Mrs Parker goes a bit too far and Violet is afraid she has chased him away. Will nothing go right in her life?
Certainly she has a problem in the office with Andi, the new editorial assistant with attitude. While the boss is out of town Andi takes it upon herself to edit Violet's movie review with disastrous results. With her burgeoning assertiveness Violet tells the boss she wants the girl fired. He says she may do that or if she wishes, put her on probation. Violet opts for probation and intends to make the girl's life miserable until she discovers a little something about Andi and a way to get her to cooperate.
Most important is the court battle for custody of Delaney, one of the most charming and realistic teenagers in recent fiction. But when Violet takes her to an Off-Off-Broadway show with mature content Delaney's future is in jeapordy unless Violet can find a way to convince the judge that she is not exposing the child to pornography and that the grandparents are not the right people to nurture her.
Filled with Dorothy Parker's wit and with some touching scenes as Violet tries to help her to move on from her ghostly life, Farewell, Dorothy Parker is among the books I've most enjoyed so far this year.
If you are interested in Mrs Parker be sure to visit the Dorothy Parker Society web site.