The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy
I’m still not sure what to think of The Dud Avocado. It’s highly acclaimed, which always makes me think that I’m missing something when I don’t share the reviewers’ enthusiasm. (Sometimes I get over it.) One thing the consensus gets wrong is how funny the book is: it’s not. It’s entertaining, to be sure, but the practice of calling books “funny” when they display the tiniest bit of wit is not helpful. That said, the book is a fun read, if a bit meandering, with great writing.
Sally Jay Gorce is the prototypical American girl in Paris: eager to check an affair off her to-do list, fascinated by Paris’s literary scene (and impressed by its many self-important bores). Flighty and spontaneous, she’s delightfully unpredictable but also self-aware: “I’m the colorful eccentric all these characters write about.” “God knows there’s no one in the world who’s more a slave to her passions than I am.” “(I have an attention span of about two minutes long.)” She analyzes her own “restlessness of vague desires” and dramatizes her failures (“I wanted to go off quietly somewhere and die.”). Let loose upon Paris with her uncle’s financial support, she seeks love (and lust), adventure and inspiration. A part-time actress, she sees Paris as “the rich man’s plaything, he craftsman’s tool, the artist’s anguish, and the world’s largest champagne factory.” She mingles with writers and wannabe philosophers, spends late nights at fancy restaurants and dive bars, looking for…something. Sally Jay goes through the usual trials of finding yourself, including unrequited love (“the one I loved best … sensationally uninterested.”) and life’s reluctance to play along:
“And I remember a little later wondering why things always turn out to be diametrically opposed to what you expect them to be. It’s no good even trying to predict what the opposite will be because it always fools you and turns out to be the oppose of that, if you see what I mean.”
You know, I think this book is funny after all. The language, as noted above, is fantastic, starting with the opening line: “It was a hot, peaceful, optimistic sort of day in September.” I just wish Dundy had given Sally Jay more space to do things rather than be content with her being places and telling us who was there. I’m not as impressed by learning about the proto-hipsters of Paris, although their parallels to the Brooklyn wannabes are fun enough. (Have to admit, it took me a long time to realize the book wasn’t set in the present.)