Elaine Dundy wrote a dandy of a book that’s been tossed insensibly into the dustbin of history. Hilarious, tart, wry, cynical and romantic all rolled up into one big carpet and danced upon. Sally Jay Gorce, American in Paris living for 2 years off her rich uncle’s largess, delivers deadpan jokes and drama throughout this late 1950s novel (pub’d 1958). We first encounter Gorce wearing an evening dress in broad daylight, altered with a large red leather belt to make less conspicuous, waiting for her laundry to be done, forgetting her appointment to meet her lover Teddy at the Sorbonne once she runs into someone she knows from home: Larry. They grab a drink at a cafe:
Suddenly, without quite knowing why, I found I was very glad to have run into him. And this was odd, because two Americans re-encountering each other after a certain time in a foreign land are supposed to clamber up their nearest lampposts and wait tremblingly for it all to blow over….
“I like it here, don’t you?” said Larry, indicating the cafe with a turn of his head.
I had to admit I’d never been there before.
He smiled quizzically. “You should come more often,” he said. “It’s practically the only nontourist trap to survive on the Left Bank. It’s real,” he added.
Real, I thought… whatever that meant. I looked at the Sorbonne students surging around us, the tables fairly rocking under their pounding fists and thumping elbows. The whole vast panoramic carpet seemed to be woven out of old boots, checkered wool and wild, fuzzy hair.
She breaks up with Teddy that night, bored with his wife and other mistress and now in love with Larry. She devours the plays of Williams, Saroyan, Shaw in order to get a part in the one-act plays Larry is directing. Her neighbor at the hotel she’s living in, Judy, introduces her to the Hard Core, a group of artists and individuals who sit at the foot of the Ancient in cafes:
A rowdy bunch on the whole, they were most of them so violently individualistic as to be practically interchangeable. For instance, there was a pair of identical blue-bereted brown beards, and although each of them had markedly different personalities – one boring and pompous, the other gay and positively skittish – Beard Boring and Beard Bubbly, in fact – I found myself avoiding them both, as I was never sure which was which.
This rowdy band of marauders goes from cafe to cafe to club to bar, one night winding up in jail. Jokes fly furiously: “I’m going to start a Left Bank Magazine and call it Anything Gauche.” One of the painters, Jim, asks her to be his model, begins to sketch her. They end up in a somewhat domestic relationship and being invited to dinner at other couples’ homes. Jim reciprocates with an invitation to his home and Sally is upset because she doesn’t know how to cook:
“Marion de Wald cooks,” he said grimly. “She does all the cooking and looks after two kids as well.”
I tried to remember one minute the whole weekend when Marion and I weren’t either feeding people, or clearing up from doing it, or preparing to do it again. And presumably she never stopped doing it. But I couldn’t quite see why just because she did, I should. I mean, here I was practically fresh out of the egg, everything was so new to me, and here was everybody telling me to stop drifting, and start living in this world; telling me to start cooking, and sewing, and cleaning, and I don’t know what. Taking care of my grandchildren.
The final part, she’s whisked off to the Basque coast as part of a merry four-some with Larry, his girlfriend, and Bax. They discover a movie being filmed, get parts as extras (except Bax, who is cast as friend of the star). Sally slips away, terrified of Larry, knowing he sold her passport to the girlfriend of Crazy Eyes, meets up with Stefan and Max in Paris. At dinner, Stefan orders an avocado, compares it to the typical American girl – “hard center with the tender meat all wrapped up in a shiny casing… so green, so eternally green.” Sally says she’s a dead avocado, not going to burst into bloom. Stefan mis-hears, “a dud one?” and Max raises his glass to “the dud avocado.” Later, she runs away to NYC to be a librarian, bumps into Max, whirlwind romance ending in marriage (BLAH) then to Japan for honeymoon.