New Bookforum

In the current issue of Bookforum, Marion Meade recounts Dorothy Parker’s strange friendship with Lillian Hellman, which got off to an inauspicious start.

At a Manhattan cocktail party in 1931, Dorothy Parker was delighted to meet a writer whose latest novel she had showered with praise. Dashiell Hammett, she said in her New Yorker review of The Glass Key, was as all-American “as a sawed-off shotgun,” a guy “so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn.” Such rapturous compliments seldom appeared in her book column, but she had admired Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon, and suddenly encountering “my hero” in person made her drop impulsively to her knees in homage. Hammett took this bit of Wagnerian theatrics in the intended spirit–he laughed. Dash’s girlfriend, pouting nearby, was not amused. Afterward she screamed at him for permitting a literary critic to kneel in such a disgusting manner, as if he could have stopped Mrs. Parker, who ordinarily knelt to nobody.

Later, apparently, the two women were tight — until Parker died and left her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. (and the NAACP at his death), rather than to Hellman. (Of local interest: Meade lectures on Parker at the Mercantile Library on April 5.)

Also in the April/May Bookforum: Darcy Cosper is surprised to find A.M. Homes’ This Book Will Save Your Life uplifting, Gideon Lewis-Kraus admires David Mitchell’s latest novel, and Meghan O’Rourke pontificates on feminism and “manliness.”

(O’Rourke’s remarks might be enraging if I had in my possession the fistful of uppers necessary to negotiate the thicket of banal, inartfully constructed and frequently imprecise language. I got tangled up in the first few paragraphs, skipped to the conclusion — which one friend expended three paragraphs shredding before threatening to seek legal damages for those lost minutes of his life — and lost patience. Another friend reports: “My brain would only permit me to skim, but this reads like nothing more than a freshman essay by a not very promising student.” And Dana charges that even the OED citations are wrong: “I stopped reading after the first paragraph, because my version of the OED says that the most recent citation of ‘manliness’ was in the Guardian in 1994. And if you’re going to be pedantic about it, the last literary reference was Wole Soyinka, in 1963.”)

See also O’Rourke’s “Why wanting equality makes women unhappy.”


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