It’s hard to read Elaine Dundy’s The Old Man and Me without comparing it to her previous novel, The Dud Avocado. I hate to do so, when I really think they’re quite different, but some superficial characteristics just beg for it. Namely, the whole “young American girl in Paris” converted to “young American girl in London” business.
Our narrators do sound a bit similar, but really everything else is different. Sally Jay Gorce isn’t half as ballsy as Honey Flood—or is that even her real name? No, as Dundy says in her introduction to her second novel, Honey is a “Bad Girl,” an “Angry Young Woman,” an antiheroine who “hates everything English,” “operating on a short fuse.”
So while Sally Jay goes on a wild, directionless romp in France, pushed and pulled only by the tides of friends, mood, and whim, Honey is on a mission: to seduce and kill C.D. McKee, the eponymous old man. Their tone and sense of humor is similar, but where Sally Jay gets played, Honey is the one doing the playing.
Look: all I’m trying to say is that there comes a crucial moment in a relationship in which one person is moving towards the other—passing from stranger to acquaintance to something else—when (to be precisely Précieuse for the moment and get out Mademoiselle Scudéry’s Carte de Tendre that I used to study in French class) when one must make the perilous journey from, let us say, the Ville de la Curiosité to the Ville de la Compassion without falling into the Lac d’Indifférence, and C.D. made it via the tale I spun.
C.D. is a real character. Getting on in years, wealthy, a patron of the arts. Known for his unimaginable rudeness, which, in these circles, is really saying something.
Continue reading The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy
The first scene of The Dud Avocado finds Sally Jay Gorce unexpectedly meeting an acquaintance from America, Larry Keevil, and having a drink with him at a café. He outlines for her the four types of tourists, which fall into two categories. We have:
The Eager-Beaver-Culture-Vulture, who has “the list ten yards long, who just manages to get it all crossed off before she collapses of aesthetic indigestion each night and has to be carried back to her hotel”
The Sophisticate, “determined to maintain her incorruptible standards of cleanliness and efficiency if the entire staff of her hotel dies trying” The Disorganized The Sly One, who wants to “see Europe casually, you know, sort of vaguely, out of the corner of the eye”
The Wild Cat, for whom “it’s her first time free and her first time across and, by golly, she goes native in a way the natives never had the stamina to go”
Larry can tell right away that Sally Jay is some combination of the last two. It’s a bit harder to tell how sincere her denial is, especially since she blushes during his description of the Sly One at how closely it resembles some of her recent actions—“I had actually—Oh Lord—I had actually kissed one of the stones at the fountain, I remembered, flung my shoes off, and executed a crazy drunken dance.” Certainly falls under the criterion of “all restraint is thrown to the wind and anything really old enough is greeted with animal cries of anguish at its beauty.” He really has her number, for now at least. She thinks herself far from a tourist, but she is one. By the time she’s not anymore she’s ready to leave.
In fact, Larry’s extended talk of Disorganized tourists very nearly put me off.
Continue reading On the organized and disorganized tourist
Every once in a while a cover or a description of an NYRB title will put me off and make me think it’s not quite for me. I’d been hearing pretty good things around the internets about The Dud Avocado but I kept thinking, “The dud avocado?” Plus the whole, young American girl runs wild in Paris, blah blah. But I was way wrong.
For most of the novel, it is the story of a young American girl running wild in Paris, but Elaine Dundy gives Sally Jay Gorce, our heroine and narrator, such a great voice. She’s cool, but not actually that cool. She hangs out with a lot of cool people, but when she recounts their nights out she doesn’t seem terribly impressed. She’s having fun, mostly, but she doesn’t have a lot of illusions about how damn serious everything is, like so many characters do.
Sally Jay gets a lot of her good personality, I think, from her Uncle Roger, the rich relative funding her escapades. He makes a deal with her at a young age that once she’s done with school he’ll pay for her to go off and do whatever she wants for two years.
For the first time he spoke to me man to man. “I think I understand your predilection for being continually on the wing, or rather, to put it more precisely, on the lam,” he said seriously. “It’s difficult to know nowadays where adventure lies. There are no more real frontiers. Funny how these things work out. I came roaring out of the Middle West, you know, and my greatest ambition was to conquer—that’s how I saw it—to conquer New York; New York and the mysterious, civilized East. Now my father before me had set his sights on conquering the Middle
Continue reading The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy