Tag Archives: women writers

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

3 May

I’m happy to present another post by Sam Glass, on a book that, though I may never have heard of it, it has since won a spot on my ever growing summer reading list.

A few weeks ago, I realized that all of my favorite writers were men. This was pretty embarrassing. After soliciting recommendations via Facebook status update, I’m equipped with a comprehensive and rather intimidating list of female authors to explore. It’s important for everyone, but particularly heterosexual men in their early 20’s (yours truly), to be cognizant of how gender is privileged in the literary canon. To that end, I’ve begun an eight-week regimen in which my reading will be limited to books and short stories authored by women. The Dud Avocado was first.

Published:1958

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

Quick Read: Yes.

Difficulty: Not difficult, very funny!

Synopsis: Sally Jay Gorce, fresh out of Sweet Briar College, is living in Paris with the intent to see new things, meet new people, and have new experiences—“hell-bent on living” is her phrase. The first chapter introduces her with pink hair, an evening dress (her other clothing is at the cleaners), a luxurious Italian lover, and a sharp, intelligent voice. Living on money from a wealthy Uncle who’s decided to give her two years of no-strings-attached adventure, Sally Jay careens about France like some sassy knight-errant—there’s little rhyme or reason to her actions beyond the aforementioned desire to “live.” She makes some sensible decisions but many foolish ones, and her native intelligence and charm is often put at odds against the typical foibles of the young: naiveté, credulousness, irritability, and ennui. Sally’s story dips and crescendos with a rotating cast of characters, and eventually culminates in rather beautiful realization from which the novel derives its title. It is a very good story.

What makes this book awesome? 

The voice. Seriously. Sally Jay’s narration is the lynchpin of the novel, and it transmutes the interesting-but-not-incredible events of the story in pure gold. Wry observations are peppered throughout but the tone is never strained; Elaine Dundy’s command is pretty impressive for a first-time novelist. Comparisons to Salinger and Mary McCarthy spring to mind. There’s the same assuredness in her prose, and the same delightful abnegation of post-modern conventions in favor of telling a damn good story—reading The Dud Avocado feels like spending an afternoon in the presence of a particularly magnetic stranger. This isn’t to say The Dud Avocado never delves into deeper territory: amid the jokes, many considerations of what it means to be a young girl in a strange land evolve against the events that play out in the story. One of my favorite lines is spoken by Sally Jay after she realizes her Italian lover is only after her family’s money. Laughing, she says, “Oh thank you, Teddy. Thank you for restoring my cynicism. I was far too young to lose it!” The Dud Avocado is a good book in any case, but it’s especially pertinent to the young, smart, and unwise.

Elaine Dundy, seen here looking as though maybe she's got a good joke for Groucho Marx.

Some neat-o facts:

  • Groucho Marx loved the book so much he wrote Elaine Dundy a letter: “I had to tell someone (and it might as well be you since you’re the author) how much I enjoyed The Dud Avocado. It made me laugh, scream, and guffaw (which, incidentally, is a great name for a law firm).”
  • The Dud Avocado is semi-autobiographical. Dundy once said of Sally Jay: “”all the impulsive, outrageous things my heroine does, I did. All the sensible things she did, I made up.
  • The rest of Dundy’s life was pretty crazy as well. She married a British dramatist and began to hang out with Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and Laurence Olivier. She also wrote a biography of Elvis Presley that Kirkus Reviews called “the most fine-grained Elvis bio ever.”

If you like this, try: The Group, Mary McCarthy; Bonjour Tristise, Francoise Sagan; Daisy Miller, Henry James