The Dud Avocado was my book club’s September pick, and it’s a book I had been meaning to read for a while. (Let’s face it, many of the books I read are books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. The list is never ending.)
Summary from the back of the book:
The Dud Avocado follows the romantic and comedic adventures of a young American who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s. Edith Wharton and Henry James wrote about the American girl abroad, but it was Elaine Dundy’s Sally Jay Gorce who told us what she was really thinking. Charming, sexy, and hilarious, The Dud Avocado gained instant cult status when it was first published and it remains a timeless portrait of a woman hell-bent on living.
Sally Jay Gorce is a memorable character. She struck me somewhat as a possible cross between Holden Caulfield and Bertie Wooster. Yes, that’s an odd mix. But she’s an odd girl. She might have been a slightly annoying character, but it’s forgivable when you keep in mind the time period she’s in. While most young women in the late fifties were expected to marry and become good housewives, Sally Jay Gorce is off on her own in Europe, living fairly selfishly. Most of the book club members also agreed that we wish we could have had a few years on our own in Paris, paid for by a rich uncle.
This is a great story, and I can see why it became a cult classic. She’s been compared to Holly Golightly and Bridget Jones, and I think she’s a character all her own – worthy of mention among the great troubled female heroines. Her story is written with such a clear and unique voice that you almost feel like you know her by the end. Elaine Dundy is a great writer, and I need to read some more of her work.
I marked the heck out of my copy, but here are some of my favorite lines and passages:
I could have died of happiness. I went back to Montparnasse and flung myself into a celebration which lasted two nights and from which it took me three days to recover. (page 57)
The waiters at the Select comported themselves with that slightly theatrical mixture of charm, complicity and contempt that one would expect from servants in Hell. All you had to do was sit there at the beginning of an evening, feeling pristine and crisp, combed and scented, and order your very first drink (it could be something as innocent as a lemonade), for them to indicate by the slightest flicker of their merry eyes that they were aware as you that you were taking the fatal step down the road to ruin. By merely clattering up the used cups and saucers onto their trays, flicking their napkins over the table, the better to clear the stage for disaster, and repeating your order precisely as given, they could predict for you the whole miracle that was going to take place four hours later when you – the now transformed, tousled, shiny, vague-eyed you – would emerge, talking the most utter balderdash, spilling beans of shattering truths or equally shattering lies, singing with friends, fighting with strangers, promising favors, promising love, scrambling into bed and clambering out again . . . all this they could predict for you as relentlessly as any Delphic Oracle, while are the same time it all struck them as so irresistibly funny they couldn’t help chuckling. (page 87)
Frequently, walking down the streets in Paris alone, I’ve suddenly come upon myself in a store window grinning foolishly away at the thought that no one in the world knew where I was at just that moment. (page 160)
Now we eat breakfast every day in our bathing suits on the patio, the early morning air pungent with aromatic smells of food and flowers, and the coffee tasting of the sun. (page 169)
I learned something from him, I hope. Lesson 1: No matter what you do you’ve got to try to do it well. Otherwise it’s unbearable. (page 200)
It was a wonderful warm summer’s night. Presque parfaite. Everything in the sky that could be was out: Northern lights, Southern lights, milky ways, moons, planets, stars, shooting stars, whole galaxies of solar systems winking and twinkling eons away in their own heavens. (page 203)
What was the use of remembering? If it was unpleasant, it was unpleasant. If it was pleasant, it was over. (page 221)
“Now,” he said. “I have to ask you three questions. How old are you? Are you in love? And what in God’s name are you doing here?” (page 244)
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