Book Review: The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

The details:

Title: The Dud Avocado
Author: Elaine Dundy
Genre: Fiction (first published in 1958)
Pages: 272

Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado is a quirky book that I find hard to categorize and to review months after I finished reading it. The narrator, Sally Jay Gorce, is an American who makes a deal with her rich uncle when she tries to run away as a teenager. If she agrees to stay in school and finish university, he’ll give her enough money so that she can do whatever she wants for two years. The only rule is that she will wait to tell him all about it when she returns. Sally Jay happily assents to this plan and, when the novel opens, she has spent a few months in Paris really living it up. She dyed her hair pink and is still in her evening dress on the morning described in the opening chapter. By chance, she meets a fellow actor, Larry, from back home and quickly falls in love with him.

There’s something charming about Sally Jay and her wisecracks that I loved. She’s still young enough that she’s a bit naive about other people’s motives, but, through her disillusionment, she retains her curiosity, fascination with the world, and sense of humor.

“That’s my answer to the question what is your strongest emotion, if you ever want to ask me: Curiosity, old bean. Curiosity every time.”

She is eager for experience, a trait that sometimes gets her into trouble, much to the amusement of the reader. While on vacation on the coast of France with Larry and a couple of his friends, Sally Jay completely loses it after days and days of interminable rain. She throws a chicken carcass at the cat that came with the house (she doesn’t like cats much). Then she picks up a pear, bites off the top like a grenade, and throws it against the wall. Finally, she breaks a few plates and starts laughing, all the while the others are watching her with concern. She tells them she wants to have a good time. When they ask her how, she doesn’t quite know “but brother, not like this.” Scenes like that, though humorous, contributed to my problem of deciding how to describe this novel. It’s the sort of writing that will appeal to people with a zany sense of humor.

In an Afterword, Dundy explained that she got the title during a dinner party where she told someone that she had never been able to grow a plant from an avocado pit. It just never worked for her, and the person said that was because she had a dud avocado. Within the text, one character says that women are like avocados, and I suppose we are supposed to view Sally Jay as a dud avocado. This novel tells the story of a young woman entering adulthood and finding the whole setup very confusing. She misreads people and makes bad decisions and she grows in the process, but not too much. The last line of the novel reassures the reader that she is still the Sally Jay of the first chapter and capable of a good one-liner in any situation.

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