The New Yorker magazine published a cartoon years ago where one woman, talking to another at a cocktail party, says, “I can’t remember if I didn’t like his second book, or his second wife.”
The characters in Jericho novelist Ellen Meister’s just-published Dorothy Parker Drank Here (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) generally agree Ted Shriver’s second book was brilliant whereas his second wife, Audrey, earned mixed reviews. Yet Ted, a J.D. Salinger-like figure, and his ex-wife, while driving much of the book’s narrative, are secondary players as compared to 29-year-old Norah Wolfe, an ambitious associate TV producer, and her confidante, the ghost of the late writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). Readers of Meister’s Farewell, Dorothy Parker, which was published in 2013, will recall Parker’s spirit can be summoned if a certain book is opened at Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel, where the real-life Parker held court with the top literary figures of her era. The difference between Meister’s 2013 and 2015 Dorothy Parkers?
“To start, most of the action takes place in the Algonquin Hotel, so the setting is different,” Meister explains. “And there’s a new cast of characters for Mrs. Parker to interact with, including a stubborn and cantankerous literary icon [Shriver]—a dying recluse who doesn’t give a damn what the rematerialized Dorothy Parker, or anyone else, for that matter, thinks of him. He’s a great foil. And the other main character, Norah, brings so much hidden emotional baggage that Parker feels the need to intervene.”
Offering unsolicited advice, and inserting herself into other people’s business, is what Meister’s Parker does. Think of Mrs. Parker as Dr. Phil, if he were hosting his daily afternoon chat fest while inebriated and ordering additional drinks for whomever had an empty glass. To be sure, Meister’s ability to revive Parker’s reputation for world-weariness and clever repartee has been one the reasons Dorothy Parker’s Facebook Page, which Meister oversees, now has nearly 140,000 friends. “I believe she (Parker) has always inspired legions of fans. Social media has simply brought them out into the light,” Meister said.
The main storyline in the entertaining Dorothy Parker Drank Here revolves around Wolfe’s efforts to secure a Shriver interview for Simon Janey Live, the television program for which Wolfe works. The pressure is on because Simon Janey’s ratings-challenged talk show needs something dramatic to occur in order to change its fortunes. Shriver would be a great get because he receded from public view in the 1980s due to a plagiarism scandal. What could possibly convince Shriver to end his decades-long silence and tell the world his side of the story? Mrs. Parker has lots of ideas.
Meister’s promotional tour for her fifth novel fittingly began on Tuesday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m., at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th St. in Manhattan. It will be followed by a talk, and book-signing, on Friday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. at Book Revue, 313 New York Avenue in Huntington, and a Sunday, March 8, 4 p.m., appearance at Barnes & Noble, 91 Old Country Rd. in Carle Place.
Besides being a published author and the keeper of Dorothy Parker’s flame, Meister teaches creative writing at Hofstra University’s Continuing Education Program. She and her husband, Michael, a financial advisor, are the parents of three children. Max is 23-years-old, and a student at Five Towns College, while Ethan, 20, attends Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. Emma, their 17-year-old daughter, is a high school junior.
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism.