And I thought I knew all of the short story writers who write good social satire, especially about the Battle of the Sexes. Do you like John Updike's dissonant couples the Maples? John Cheever's middle-class suburban sashayings? John O'Hara's accounts of evil-propelled mis-treatments and non-treatments? Ring Lardner's tales of hamfisted bunglings? Katherine Mansfield's dry-point etchings of looming males and tendril-like females?
To these I can now add Dorothy Parker--whom I discovered only last month after enjoying the above social-critics for decades. A sharp-tongued journalist, Parker wrote in New York City in the 1920's through the 1950's. She's a key addition to the "fruit salad" of these writers--call her a lime, perhaps--small, tart, acid but somehow quenching our thirst for the truth however tangy?
Parker precisely pinpoints interpersonal shipwrecks. Marriage is--what happens. Often it's like this:
In "New York to Detroit," on the telephone, a man mechanically shoves a desperate woman out of his life. The bad connection aids his "misunderstandings" of her frantic pleas.
In "Here We Are," a just-married couple travel by train to their New York City honeymoon hotel. But we see already the stress-fractures of immature overreactions, and how out of them starts to ooze the lava of hatred which will surely melt down (or burn out) the marriage soon.
In "Too Bad," women are perplexed, even astonished, that the Weldons separated. Such an ideal couple! Except Parker eavesdrops us into the couple's typical evening at home. Its genteel vacancy, polite non-communication, and quiet distancing tell the tale.
Is Parker too crude a caricaturist? Heavy on the satire, too bitter personally? True, her women seem simplified: helplessly-hysterical, nice-nice faceless patseys or creampuffs, captives of bland routines--and of men. Her men similarly seem generic males-of-the-species, "blunt bluff hearty and...meaningless," conventionally-whiskered and all, chauvinistically-insensitive if not cruel. Okay... But if it's overdone, why do I feel I have known and seen these people, or traces of them, often, and not in New York of the 1920's-1950's either?