‘A Telephone Call’ by Dorothy Parker

If all you know about Dorothy Parker is that she had a zinging wit and a sad love life then you will pretty much know what to expect from ‘A Telephone Call’. It’s zingingly witty and achingly sad; it squeezes the rueful empathy of Parker’s longer works like ‘Big Blonde’ into a crammed monologue of infatuation, self-doubt and thwarted hope (we’re a long way, here, from the brilliant but frivolous ‘The Waltz’, a monologue that might seem to be from the same mould). “Oh, it’s so easy to be sweet to people before you love them!” the narrator cries, as she waits for her lover to call. Emotionally, it’s an exhausting thing to read, as one switchback slingshots you into the next; as a commentary on sexual politics, it’s uncompromisingly raw: “They don’t like you to tell them they’ve made you cry. They don’t like you to tell them you’re unhappy because of them. If you do, they think you’re possessive and exacting. And then they hate you. They hate you whenever you say anything you really think. You always have to keep playing little games.”

First published 1950

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