By the Book: ‘Dorothy Parker Drank Here’ by Ellen Meister

Dorothy Parker Drank Here
Photo: Putnam

Ellen Meister’s Dorothy Parker Drank Here (Putnam) comes close on the heels of her first fictional frolic with the literary heroine. The earlier book (called Farewell, Dorothy Parker) generated a following for the author, especially online where her Dorothy Parker Facebook Page has attracted more than 170,000 likes. Fans, of course, will be delighted to have another opportunity, with this latest book, to savor Parker’s deliciously cynical, wickedly witty bon mots, and will, most likely, cut Meister a lot of slack in the plot department.

More literary types, though, may grow impatient with a narrative that features Parker’s materializing ghost. When the Algonquin Hotel’s Guest Book, containing Parker’s signature, is opened, she’s able to assume a corporeal form. She does so, albeit reluctantly at first, to assist young Norah Wolfe, a television producer who’s come across the book at the hotel. If Wolfe can just find once-famous author, Ted Shriver, and talk him into appearing on a failing TV show, the show, and Wolfe’s job, may be saved. Shriver is not easy to convince. Disgraced after his last novel was discovered to have contained plagiarized passages, he lives alone and drinks.

The concept is a bit of a stretch, especially as the reader intuits early on what “deeply buried secret” exists between Shriver and Wolfe. What the author has done, in short, is contrive an excuse to channel the Queen of the famed Algonquin Roundtable. The narrative frequently pauses for Parkerisms, which are wonderful but would shine no matter what. It’s well-meaning fun, despite the obvious plot twist, gratuitous contributions by Parker and the less than seamless integration of domestic and literary themes. Still, Meister, who teaches creative writing at Hofstra University in its Continuing Education program, seems to have had a good time writing the book, and there’s nothing wrong with that.


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