Recently a woman named Tracy Tynan published a memoir (which — full disclosure — I haven’t read), that seems to center, like so many these days, on how awful mommy and daddy were.
Her father was that once famous enfant terrible and then just plain terrible literary critic Kenneth Tynan, while her mother, Elaine Dundy, is almost always described as the author of the cult classic The Dud Avocado. Now I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear the phrase “cult classic” I can’t control myself — like some Manson girl looking into Charlie’s hypnotic eyes I immediately want to join that cult — and I’m quite happy I did.
The Dud Avocado is, first of all, a very funny book, principly because of the honest, extremely witty voice of the narrator, Sally Jay Gorce, who is always willing to share both her perceptive, acerbic opinions and her baffled ignorance and regret. It’s the story of a post-collegiate American woman who from a very early age has tried to run away from the stifling conformity of her home, and finally makes it to the bohemia freedom of late fifties Paris. There’s definitely a picaresque aspect to it as she careens from adventure to misadventure among fellow expats and various representatives of the Old World. The novel it most reminded me of was actually The Bell Jar, with comedy less black and no suicide or insanity. That’s not to say that there are no darker shades in the book, and indeed at the end some pretty shady plot mechanisms grind rather grimly, but it concludes on a rather improbably upbeat note, so I suppose all things considered, you’d have to call it a comedy.
But what I most liked about it was the endless stream of memorable lines that Dundy puts in Sally Jay’s mouth. I was so busy stuffing them into my quote bag that I was hardly able to turn the pages.