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[492] The Dud Avocado – Elaine Dundy

” I’d heard the words ‘Champs-Élysées,’ of course, but I thought it was a park or something. I mean that’s what it sounds like, doesn’t it? All at once I found myself standing there gazing down that enchanted boulevard in the blue, blue evening. Everything seemed to fall into place. Here was all the gaiety and glory and sparkle I knew was going to be life if I could just grasp it. ” (Part I, One, p.27)

When you’re young and curious about the world, you’re fearless. Twenty-one-year-old Sally Jay Gorce finds herself in Paris with such curiosity in early 1950s. Upon graduation, her uncle honors his stipulation that he would foot for her expenses for two years so she can travel anywhere she wants. Soon after her arrival she runs into an old friend, Larry Keevil, who is to cast her in his new plays at the American Theater. While she is head over heels about Larry, an Italian diplomat, smitten with her, is equally enthralled by her sophistication and youth. Seeing that she is emotionally extremely deep and yet not wholly awakened, he warns her about Larry.

I always expect people to behave much better than I do. When they actually behave worse, I am frankly incredulous. (Part I, Six, p.101)

Sally Jay is not stupid. She’s in fact cognizant and ready to embrace what life has in store for her. Maybe she can use better value judgments, which are the very things that are only gained by being in her position—independent and abroad. Paris may be “the rich man’s plaything, the craftsman’s tool, the artist’s anguish, and the world’s largest champagne factory,” but one doesn’t have to live there to live, as she comes to realization, after a hell-bent living that involves an unsavory and a lost passport. Once she gets to know some of its not-so-nice residents, she has a flash of full-fledged epiphany that concludes with a rueful remark: “I’m so tired. What happens when your curiosity just suddenly gives out? When the will and the energy snap and it all seems so once-over-again?” (Part II, Three, p.199)

Written in an intelligent, somewhat addled but sarcastic voice, The Dud Avocado is a cheerfully uninhibited novel about a young American abroad who is up to her ears in possibility. From the glitz of the Ritz to the dive of the quartier to the charm of southern France, Sally Jay Gorce is rolling with her situation, is in search for happiness, acceptance, and perhaps, love. Her new-found freedom renders her fearless but not invincible, and she can use some honing just so she does not trust with such blind passion.

What it amounted to was that I, who had never been anywhere before, had suddenly been around once too often. I mean I’d felt like a prostitute, picking up those comparative strangers. Before, I would have eagerly sought them out for the pleasure and curiosity of meeting more and more people on my own hook. Now I had the sad little ulterior motive of trying to stave off my fear and loneliness. (Part III, Two, p.221)

The Dud Avocado is very funny. The pages only turn faster after a stagnant start, as the savvy-but-not-savvy-enough heroine embarks on (mis)adventures that would be precious to her growth although unbearably miserable at the moment. The many characters that intertwine with her in Paris speak in distinct voices and breathe a lively pulse to the book. You can live vicariously through her words. The moral lesson doesn’t rub off your nose but rather seeps through the course of her adventures. Despite the humor, the book is serious in the sense that what it has to say has to be read between the punch lines. It’s a moveable feast from a female’s perspective.

260 pp. NYRB Classics. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


4 Responses

  1. This sounds so good Matt! Snarky and wry, just the way I like my humor… the next time I want a slice of Paris in my reading, I am absolutely going to seek this one out!

  2. This sounds really familiar… did you get it at Green Apple Books? I think I remember seeing it on one of the front tables there 🙂

    • When NYRB Classics reissued this book a few years ago, it was all over the place. I saw it at Green Apple too but I purchased it from Dog eared Book on Valencia and 20th St. I’m so glad NYRB reissues the book because otherwise I would not have heard of her. I read that it was a big hit when it first came out but somehow, due to lack of publicity in the media, the book got buried and was forgotten. It’s great fun to read and I like her snarky style.

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