Books on GIF #35 — 'The Dud Avocado' by Elaine Dundy
Books on GIF is a weekly review and discussion of random books told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.
This Sunday's book is 'The Dud Avocado' by Elaine Dundy.
This book was recommended by Danielle and a few other folks, and I am happy to pass along their approbation to you. 'The Dud Avocado' is a smart, funny and engaging book. It follows Sally Jay Gorce, who's fresh out of college and is bent on conquering Paris:
Sally Jay is a complicated heroine. She's fiercely independent and once ran away from home at age 13 to become a bullfighter:
But she also worries that she will end up a librarian, alone and unloved among the bookshelves.
Her overwhelming impulse is to be free or, as she says, to 'run for her life.' She's not quite sure where she's running, but she's certain she wants to escape marriage, babies, cooking, cleaning and the other gender assignments of the late 1950s, when this book was written, as well as her provincial small-minded town and dopey cousins that cause her no end of:
She convinces her good ol' Uncle Roger, who's a rich eccentric amateur astronomer, to finance her 'freedom.' He gives her a monthly allowance to use to go wherever she likes, and he tells her he doesn't want to hear from her for two years until she's ready to return and talk about what she's learned about the world. And so she's off to Paris in search of adventure. She mingles with artists, thinkers, wannabes and hangers-on in the cafes of the left bank.
And she also encounters men. There's Teddy, the Italian diplomat she has an affair with, who's not only married but already has another mistress. But she's really in love with Larry, the theater director. Or is it Jim, the artist? Or Max, the photographer? Or is it Bax, the husky Canadian? Or none of the above? It's complicated.
All these men are some variation of the type who view independent women as flighty or loose or silly or unrealistic about the world. They all tell Sally Jay that she needs to 'grow up,' and by that, of course, they mean get married, clean up the house and, of course, stop running.
Turns out Elaine Dundy was married to a man like that, an English book critic. He first encouraged her to write 'The Dud Avocado,' but when it gained some acclaim and was praised by luminaries such as Ernest Hemmingway and Groucho Marx, he gave her an ultimatum: writing or me. Guess what she chose.
I really liked this book for several reasons. First, because it felt very much like Sally Jay was a real person. You see her work through confusion, fear, self-doubt, love, compassion and the like, and you see her grow.
Also, because it was well written — there's a scene where she goes on a date that turns into a night of bar-hopping and dancing that felt alive and true to what those nights feel like. And, most of all, it was just a fun book to read. So go do so!
'The Dud Avocado' by Elaine Dundy was originally published in 1958, and reissued in 2007 by the New York Review of Books. 255 pages.
What's next?In the coming weeks I'll review 'White Teeth' by Zadie Smith, 'Gilead' by Marilynne Robinson and 'Crossing to Safety' by Wallace Stegner, among others.
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Thanks for reading!*
* Thanks especially to Donna for copy editing this review!