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A week with Dorothy Parker: Subtlety of Structure

[su_note](Editor’s Note: You can find even more posts about Dorothy Parker’s story, You Were Perfectly Fine, by checking out the Dorothy Parker category tag.)[/su_note]

If you’re like me, when you think, Dorothy Parker, and, short fiction, (or nearly anything else Dorothy Parker wrote or said), you think wit, satire, economy of words. You think about tight tales with sharp edges. If you’re like me, you don’t necessarily think, round, yet a deeper look at You Were Perfectly Fine reveals a fine, round structure.

Originally published in February 23, 1929 issue of The New Yorker, You Were Perfectly Fine, is a perfectly fine example of Parker’s notorious wit and economy of language. The story details an exchange between a hungover young man and his clear-headed girlfriend. In typical Parker form, there are no extraneous details during the conversation. Parker simply introduces the pair as, the “pale young man,” and the “clear-eyed girl.” They sit on a sofa. They converse.

During their conversation, the night before unfolds: the young man drank too much and irritated his companions, all except the clear-eyed girl, who has held on to the young man’s profession of love in a taxi at the end of the night. With not so much as one physical detail about how each responds to the other’s dialogue throughout the story, Parker spears them and those like them as she reveals their foibles. The only physical details are at the start and finish, and here’s where the lovely roundness, a circle if you will, is to be found.

Parker begins with, “The pale young man eased himself carefully into the low chair, and rolled his head to the side, so that the cool chintz comforted his cheek and temple.”

“Oh dear,” he said. “Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear. Oh.”

“The clear-eyed girl, sitting light and erect on the couch, smiled brightly at him.”

She offers him a drink, which he declines. This allows the entry into the conversation about the previous night, during which the girl assures him that, though drunk, he was perfectly fine.

The girl reveals his antics, telling him he was fine though he clearly behaved poorly, then reminding him of their taxi ride, “round and round and round the park,” where he said, “such lovely, lovely things.”

This round and round is part of their ritual and  key to the structure of the story: at the end of the round and round of the taxi in the park, the story returns to the sofa, to a request on the young man’s part for alcohol, and to a little physical detail. The girl jumps up from the couch to get him a drink, leaving him with, “damp and trembling hands.”

In this way, Parker uses the subtlety of structure to augment her overt wit as she reveals the circular nature of the relationship and of the man’s relationship with alcohol. Who knows how long they have been on this path, walking in circles. Can either of them really sort out a beginning or end to it all?

In the words of the pale young man, repeated here at the end: “Oh,dear,” he said. “Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear.”


Originally from Kilmarnock, Scotland, Heather Marshall Magruder is now based in the foothills of South Carolina, where she lives with two of her three children, a pair of Labrador-mix dogs, a set of bagpipes and a Royal Enfield motorcycle. Her fiction is published in a variety of periodicals — mostly recently in Northwords Now, Prime Number and Six Minute Magazine. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Heather likes to explore the connection — or disconnection — between characters and the natural environment in her writing. When she isn’t at work, you can find her tromping or riding over the hills near her home, and, when she can get away with it, on the other side of the Atlantic.

Heather’s blog can be found at:

She also contributed to the November discussion of Flannery O’Connor’s story, A Good Man is Hard to Find, right here on my blog. (In case you missed it.)

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