“The Dud Avocado” by Elaine Dundy (1958) – 260 pages
“The Dud Avocado” is the story of recent United States college graduate Sally Jay Gorce who gets to spend two years in France starting in 1955 and wants to experience as much of Paris and the rest of France as she possibly can. She is 21 years old and ready for everything and anything, has mostly a lively time, makes a few dumb mistakes, but keeps her high spirits throughout. When she first arrives in Paris, she has an affair with Teddy, an Italian businessman who is married and already has another mistress. Teddy turns out to be – can you believe it? – a jerk.
“Oh, Teddy, darling, thank you, thank you, for restoring my cynicism. I was too young to lose it. ”
Then Sally Jay does some acting at an English-speaking theatre in Paris. She also starts to hang out with a group of friends called ‘The Hard Core’ who are into all-night Parisian clubbing. They go to dance clubs, Paris townie bars, gay men’s clubs (then known as queer bars), gay women’s clubs (then known as lesbian bars), coffee houses that serve alcohol, gangster bars, and so on.
“A rowdy bunch on the whole, they were most of them so violently individualistic as to be practically interchangeable.”
Did I mention that Sally Jay Gorce has a wicked, wicked sense of humor, and it would make sense to read “The Dud Avocado” just for all the great lines? Here are a couple more lines.
“It’s amazing how right you can be about a person you don’t know; it’s only the people you do know who confuse you.”
“What’s the use of remembering anything? If it was unpleasant it was unpleasant and if it was pleasant it’s over.”
Never have we had a novel like this, about a young woman throwing caution to the wind and grabbing Paris and France for all she can get. No wonder “The Dud Avocado” was a best seller when it came out in 1958 and has been republished several times since then.
“The Dud Avocado” is a New York Review Book Classic. Many of us have grown to value the NYRB Classics, and I do believe I have found one of the reasons for their success. Where many republishing efforts are aimed at getting certain fiction writers back in print, NYRB classics concentrates on getting specific novels or books of stories republished. As in pop tunes, there are a lot of one-hit wonders in fiction out there. These authors will never be all that famous, but they did manage to create one wonderful novel or book of stories. Concentrating on the book rather than the writer, NYRB Classics have brought a lot of these one-hit wonders back to life. Just as in music, some of these one-hit wonders are more fun than some highly acclaimed artists’ works.
“The Dud Avocado” is a one-hit wonder. Elaine Dundy will never be up there on literary Mount Olympus. I don’t think “The Dud Avocado” is all that well written, but it makes up for that in humor and exuberance and originality. The last half of the novel drags a bit, but Sally Jay’s high spirits keep us caught up in her story This one time Elaine Dundy managed to capture the wildness and excitement of a young woman living in Paris on her own in 1955.
“I always expect people to behave much better than I do. When they actually behave worse, I am frankly incredulous.”