THE DIARIES OF DAWN POWELL: 1931-1965 by Dawn Powell


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The personal reflections of a minor Dorothy Parker who is currently experiencing a mini-revival (Dawn Powell at Her Best, 1994). Powell's (1897-1965) terse early diaries often sound like a Woody Allen parody of the Lost Generation: ""June 8 [1932]: Drove in with the Lawsons and party at Esther's where Sue and I were great pals but in parting I socked her, also Jack."" By 1936, however, entries settle down into longer musings on the daily grind of writing, outlines for novels, snippets of conversation, and send-ups of her nearest and dearest. Edmund ""Bunny"" Wilson merits particularly savage treatment--a belated retribution for his unfavorable review in the New Yorker of Powell's 1944 novel My Home Is Far Away: ""There is no popular opinion he does not share, no unsuccessful artist or writer he does not berate, no Book-Of-The-Month he does not praise."" John Dos Passos was another one of her good friends, and she frequently encountered Dorothy Parker. But Powell, unlike Parker, never managed to completely embody her role as sharp-tongued satirist, perhaps because she could not clearly distinguish between satire and reality. She is dismayed by the reaction to one of her plays: ""Ann says people in play--those gay, charming people--are all so sordid."" Powell may have been taken in by the allure of the literary world of which she was a member, but always an insecure and peripheral one. Here she is seen minus her hard outer shell for the sad woman she truly was: plagued throughout her life by ill health and fiscal worries, alternately distraught and elated over the progress of her son, Jojo, who was believed to be retarded. The volume is edited by Washington Post music critic Tim Page, who is writing a biography of Powell. Powell shows the glamour of the New York literary court for what it was: gay and charming on the surface, but deeply sordid underneath.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1995
Page count: 520pp
Publisher: Steerforth