Tag Archives: women

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

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (A Good Love Story Series #1)

5 Feb

Well folks. Like it or not, it’s February, and Valentine’s Day isn’t too far away. Whether you’re single, “it’s complicated,” have a significant other, or just like to rant and rave about the consumerist B.S. that surrounds this holiday, try and tell me you don’t love a love story. We all do, in some way, shape, or form (I won’t take any answer but that). So until Valentine’s Day, I’m paying homage to some classic romantic (and Romantic, capital R) books. Whether or not you want to rekindle your belief in love or just absorb yourself in a place with love (hopefully) reigns, it seemed appropriate to look to Miss Jane Austen to start this series off. It’s hard not to swoon over the infamous love story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, so do be sure to give it a shot this winter.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Published: 1813

Quick Read?: Yes.

Difficulty: There is some older language, but Austen’s plot moves rather quickly and smoothly, so it won’t slow you down too much.

Synopsis: Elizabeth Bennett is not the most delicate, fair, or desirable young lady in England. It’s not that she’s not beautiful or intelligent, but as a young aristocrat she does feel she can understand and judge those around her quickly and easily. But her judgement is thrown for a loop with the appearance of the dark and brooding Mr. Darcy, who Elizabeth immediately judges as “too proud.” She finds herself around him often though because her sister has started to court Bingley, an extremely rich man who comes through town. Yet Mr. Bingley leaves quickly and Elizabeth’s family threatens to fall apart, she must revisit her judgement of others as Mr. Darcy comes in to possibly save her life as she knows it.

Why read this book?: Austen is a controversial character, but her novels are still read widely today by women all over the world because they really are timeless. The love story of falling in love with someone you also can’t stand is a common motif in books and movies today, and harkening back to the original story is certainly a fantastic ride. The characters don’t feel old-fashioned for the most part, even if the portrayals of British societal standards might. The themes of too much pride and too much prejudice still apply today, which is an impressive feat for a book that is almost 200 years old (Way to go Austen! I’d like to say she planned it, but I doubt it).

Also, looking at love, marriage, family, and money in the early 19th century is certainly intriguing. The idea of honor and dishonor brought upon oneself as a woman, and one’s family, is pretty interesting. Any implication of wrongdoing or misdeed was enough to ruin everything, something that does not exist as much today. So if you want to feel the romance against all odds this Valentine’s Day season, check this book out for sure!

Some neat-o facts:

Jane Austen

There's pride in the way Austen is dressed and prejudice hidden in those eyes.

  • Austen was the daughter of a clergyman, and worked with the poor a lot. Because of this, many people critiqued her for only writing about well-to-do people. I don’t know if I blame her though…the drama is a bit more fun and superfluous. What do you think?
  • There are some pretty wonderful adaptations of this book as a film done by the BBC and elsewhere. Watch if you love romance! Avoid if you hate Valentine’s Day to begin with.
  • While many feminists have criticized Austen for her female characters always revolving around men and their actions, many would argue that that was a reflection of the times, and that most of women’s fate did revolve around marriage, childbirth, and motherhood. If you have an opinion of your own, do let me know in the comments!

If you like this, try: Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, or Mansfield Park by Austen; Middlemarch by George Eliot; Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

17 Jan

Full disclosure, folks. You know how I’ve been upfront with you all about my love of Woolf? Well, my love of her is only really rivaled by my love of Angela Carter. British feminist writers know the keys to my heart, and truthfully Carter is one of the writers I discuss heavily in my thesis project. I just love her, and have found that she has been largely forgotten as time has worn on (she died in 1992). This is only a smidgen short of a tragedy, in my mind. Forget Twilight or any of those other fantastical, paranormal books being written nowadays–read some Carter and I promise you won’t regret it.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Published: 1979

Quick Read?: Carter’s language is very rich and detailed, but the stories themselves are engrossing. It’s a fairly quick read.

Difficulty: Again, Carter loves to use elaborate language. Some may find it intimidating, but her writing flows so well that it hardly feels difficult to read most of the time.

Synopsis: The Bloody Chamber is a collection of short stories, or rather, “revisions” of classic fairy tales. Carter revisits, revises, or perhaps rewrites well known Western fairy tales and myths, making them more violent, more risqué, and if nothing else, more three-dimensional. Carter’s feminist twists feel refreshing and modern, even if her audience has heard these tales ad nauseum throughout their lives. The infamous title story “The Bloody Chamber” tells the familiar story of “Bluebeard” from the young wife’s perspective, giving voice to her thoughts and agency to her (and her mother, interestingly) as she faces certain death. “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” and “Tiger’s Bride” both tell the tale of “Beauty and the Beast” but from vastly different points of view: one that the romance is one of mutual respect and reconciliation with the beast within all humans, the other implying that all men are beasts, and all women are prone to be ravaged. All of her stories take on the troublesome power dynamics of women in classic fairy tales and myths, but go deeper than just giving them agency–they examine these women’s thoughts, their possible actions, and the possibility that perhaps all humans are far more animalistic then we might like to think.

What makes this book great?: This is hard for me to answer since I’m planning to write some 80-odd pages on the subject, but the easiest way to put it is that Carter does a wonderful job of creating a feminist work that is more than just political rhetoric. It examines women in society and how their position, if these old fairy tales are to be believed, is so fixed, yet these characters are also human and humans descends from animals. Society dictates these rules to make it seem as though we are above animals, when really, all of her characters are trying to tame their animalistic instincts constantly, usually to no avail. So it’s a book concerning gender, but not exclusively, and that is something I feel should be greatly admired.

On a more fun note, there is something very satisfying in reading fairy tales from childhood in a more adult way. The violent and sexual aspects are more prominent in Carter’s retelling, and more disturbing. It’s a great deal more fun, but also unsettling. It makes you re-examine how these tales shaped your youth and the way you once viewed the world. Yet, the touch of magic and surreal throughout still makes The Bloody Chamber a great place to escape to, albeit temporarily.

A few points of interest:

Read The Bloody Chamber then try and tell me you DON'T want to frolic through the woods with Angela Carter. Just try and tell me you don't. You'll want to frolic with her. Trust me on this.

  • Carter was also a translator. She translated Charles Perrault’s fairy tales (he was the original Mother Goose–yes, Mother Goose was originally a guy), and this in turn inspired her to write The Bloody Chamber.
  • She also wrote stories based on historical events that included women–a great one is “The Fall River Axe Murders” where Carter steps inside the mind of the famous murderer Lizzie Borden, creating a sympathetic portrait of a squandered woman.
  • Carter also wrote her own screenplay for the short story “Company of Wolves” from The Bloody Chamber. Not something a lot of authors get to do. Check out the trailer, pretty creepy, right? However, it received mixed reviews upon release: 

If you enjoy this, try: Burning Your Boats: The Collected Stories by Angela Carter; A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor; Transformations by Anne Sexton; One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell; Orlando by Virginia Woolf