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The Dud Avocado

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The Dud Avocado follows the romantic and comedic adventures of a young American who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s. Edith Wharton and Henry James wrote about the American girl abroad, but it was Elaine Dundy’s Sally Jay Gorce who told us what she was really thinking.

Charming, sexy, and hilarious, The Dud Avocado gained instant cult status when it was first published and it remains a timeless portrait of a woman hell-bent on living.

“I had to tell someone how much I enjoyed The Dud Avocado. It made me laugh, scream, and guffaw (which, incidentally, is a great name for a law firm).” —Groucho Marx

“A cheerfully uninhibited...variation on the theme of the Innocents Abroad...Miss Dundy comes up with fresh and spirited comedy....Her novel is enormous fun—sparklingly written, genuinely youthful in spirit.” —The Atlantic

260 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1958

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About the author

Elaine Dundy

17 books86 followers
Elaine Dundy (1921–2008) grew up in New York City and Long Island. After graduating from Sweet Briar College in 1943 she worked as an actress in Paris and, later, London, where she met her future husband, the theater critic Kenneth Tynan. Dundy wrote three novels, The Dud Avocado (1958), The Old Man and Me (1964), and The Injured Party (1974); a play, My Place (produced in 1962); biographies of Elvis Presley and the actor Peter Finch; a study of Ferriday, Louisiana; and a memoir, Life Itself!

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,301 reviews
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,492 reviews2,372 followers
September 20, 2017
"where have you been!" you look as if you've just got out of bed?"
"I have. I just got out of the bed of some Frenchman."

It's the 50's and American Sally Jay Gorce is young, attractive, slightly disorganised and ever so keen to come to Paris on the wealth of her Uncle, to have a bloody good time!. And doesn't she just!. Although it's not all plain sailing for this seductive temptress. Dying her hair pink, she struts around town in her failed outfits (stubbornly dividing them into three looks: Tyrolean Peasant, Bar Girl, and Dreaded Librarian), she sets out to put the Parisians to shame with her antics. There are cocktail parties, sexual dilemmas, falling in love, falling out of love, drunkenness, losing money, losing her passport, pretty safe to say she is a complex hoot. One thing she definitely is, is a most likable heroine, she wants to have fun!, she wants to bed men!, good for her I say. After all, does it seem reasonable for men to carry on this way and not women?. I loved her, Most importantly of all she was simply authentic, with flaws and all that.

Through the haze of late nights and smoke filled rooms it takes a while to figure out Sally Jay is in fact an aspiring actress, trying to break into the business through some associates of hers, She is living in the city of lovers thanks to some loot donated to her precisely for this purpose by her kindly Uncle Roger, who apparently understands her "predilection for being continually on the wing". Theirs is a no-strings-attached deal. For this she spends two years doing exactly as she pleases, in a great place to do what she whats to do, Uncle Roger's sole request is that, when her trip is over, she will return and tell him all about it. That's it! No wonder she is so excitable and fruity!

When we first make her acquaintance she is still wearing her evening dress in the morning, from the night before, Larry another American she meets is a friend/ lover?, but so is Teddy, who takes her to the Ritz, all dolled up in fancy jewellery, which somehow she manages to miss place.
The reader quickly gathers her life is chaotic, and that reflects in Dundy's narrative, which never lingers around in the same place for too long, and contains lots of quick-fire dialogue.
Unfortunately, for being young and reckless, she is also somewhat fickle, changing her mind more times than Donald Trump insults women. She and Larry, a theatre director who promptly suggests that he cast her in his next production, talking over Pernod at the Café Dupont, she gazes over the top of her glass at Teddy, but you still get the impression she only has eyes for Larry, especially considering he works his magic by giving her an orgasm by simply lightly touching her arm!

The Dud Avocado is not for it's plot, as there isn't one, it's more a helter skelter set of scenarios of a young lady living free and loving every minute!. There is trouble, there is heartbreak, there is general humiliation, but there are also plenty of extremely amusing moments making for a light-hearted pleasurable read. Even the most minor characters are sent up with deep enthusiasm, just maybe not as full-on as Sally Jay. She seems hard on her self also, but warm and kind to everybody else, creating some self doubt. But when in party mode and drinking the night away that would soon evaporate. You pick up it was not easy being a woman in these stirring times, Sally Jay wants adventures and true love, adventures she gets, but will she find that one special man?.

Beneath all the irony and understatement, you sense that she wouldn't mind being taken seriously too, even if only just for a minute. I don't drink champagne cocktails or dry martinis, but I will raise a tequila zombie to Sally, for going out into the world and grabbing it by the balls, literally!.

It wasn't all great, getting carried away in places, but I am not going to pick the bones out of it. it's sparkling and lively nature doesn't demand it. An enjoyable read. 3.5/5
Profile Image for Tony.
919 reviews1,554 followers
January 29, 2015
If you take the stone of an avocado, Stefan rhapsodizes, and put it in water - just plain water - in just three months, anywhere, any place in the world, up comes a sturdy little plant of green leaves.

Ah, the familiar story line, the recurring fantasy: quit the American life; take a change of underwear and a toothbrush; and expatriate yourself. Anywhere will do. But, usually, Paris.

Once upon a time, Sally Jay Gorce kept running away from home. Trouble usually followed, without any consequences or remorse. She has a rich-as-Midas uncle who tells her if she goes to college, really goes to college, and finishes, she can go to France for two years. He will bankroll her. She can do whatever she wants. No rules. He doesn't even want to hear from her for two years. And so we meet her, with pink hair and a hangover, drifting down the boulevard St. Michel. Will we like her? Well, no...and, yes.

She seems.....not deep. She is not there to paint or write. Nothing about her is self-sufficient. Today, we would call her a drama queen.

And yet, this is a first-person account, part journal. And the voice of Sally Jay Gorce is unique, colorful, inspired.

She writes:

I always expect people to behave much better than I do. When they actually behave worse, I am frankly incredulous.

She is incredulous a lot.

This is the way she writes:

And here's where the Greek Tragedy part comes in. For my question was answered, and answered before I had time to put the button hook on the question mark, by the arrival of Lila, the old, old flame of Larry, on the arm of Teddy, the old, old flame de moi.

In a brief afterword, Elaine Dundy explains that 'The Dud Avocado' is semi-autobiographical: All the impulsive, outrageous things my heroine does, I did. All the sensible things she did, I made up.

It was autobiographical enough that her husband threatened to divorce her if she wrote a second novel. She did, and he did.

A photographer does a session with Sally Jay as a model. He is searching for a word to describe her. He finally comes up with 'questing'. Maybe she is and maybe she isn't. But maybe you are.

Why aren't you reading this?


Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,127 followers
December 22, 2013
American Innocents abroad, but the most adorable iteration of it I've ever read. This oozes charm out every pore, or would if books were porous objects- which I suppose paper is, isn't it? I don't know. Anyway, this is another one of those "why haven't more people read this?" books. This is absolutely the perfect coming-of-age/discovering-the-self novel for college-age and twenty-somethings to read. It's wish fulfillment that starts at fantasy and almost ends at reality- but not for this champagne and bubbles girl. It's also funny and sweet and naive but can also be dark and never quite loses touch with the actuality of being a passionate young girl trying to break the mold and make it on your own.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,414 followers
February 23, 2018
The Dud Avocado is like a haphazard cross between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry Miller, although funnier than Fitzgerald and less philosophical than Miller. It has young broke (but not poor) white people bumming around Europe, and when the plot isn't happening there are a lot of descriptions of the artistic milieu of Paris and the random debauched nightlife. I thought the heroine, Sally Jay Gorce, was kind of ridiculous, but I wasn't bothered by that or anything else because this book is HILARIOUS. So much more fun than I was expecting. True, things don't wrap up in the most satisfying way, but really, it was the 1950s—there was only one way this could actually end. And I had so much fun getting there that I didn't care at all. Thanks to Greta Gerwig for getting me to finally read this!
Profile Image for Kat.
940 reviews
April 30, 2017
Everything I hadn't expected it to be. The faux-memoirs of a more literate version of Paris Hilton adventuring in exotic Paris for two years, financed by her sugar uncle. Her escapades involve getting into acting, falling in love at first sight, and becoming the mistress of French monsieurs.

It's all terribly outrageous, sassy and hilarious according to the jubilant foreword and the extensive praise. Except that in reality sad echoes of Sex & The City predominate. The quasi-sophisticated heroine blabbers on about rather uninteresting events, in a way that I associate with that colleague that lacks the ability to look at herself with objectivity (there's always one) and dumps all her mundane life events and relational dramas on my plate whenever she manages to corner me in the copy corner. And I'll end up humming politely while catching myself daydreaming of dropping her in the Amazon rainforest with a small rucksack to, you know, give her something substantial to whine about, like belly button egg laying cannibalistic flies.
Profile Image for Katie.
190 reviews72 followers
July 7, 2016
I was prepared to give this a slightly lower rating (goodreads has got me thinking in stars) until the last forty or so pages, which are fabulous, probably perfect. How often can you say that? There's a description of a martini I had to write down. Well, okay, here it is: "We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." Maybe I'm an alcoholic, but doesn't that sound great? Plus it's set off in its own paragraph. This story of a fun-loving gal's year in 1950's Paris is lighthearted but extremely smart and well-written, and not without its moments of poignancy. One of the better novels I've read in a while.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
July 23, 2015
This delightful confection about a young girl, Sally Jay Gorce, in Paris has the kind of timeless voice that one can imagine sounding piquant and fresh in just about any decade of the last century, right up until today. Sally Jay has a closetful of designer clothes that she bought on sale but always seems to find herself wearing the wrong thing…like a cocktail dress in the daytime or a rumpled, layered schoolgirl look while trying to intimidate a consular officer at the U.S. Embassy. I can sympathize. Wearing the right thing is a learned skill, but what I could tell her is that people always wearing the correct attire either never go anywhere or change their clothes a lot.

Sally Jay is on a learning tour of Europe but she doesn’t really like travel, which is why she’s settled in Paris. She didn’t like Paris, either, when she first got there, but after a few days was having a pretty good time, so she stayed. She met folks she knew from back home, one especially, a man who directed plays at the American Theatre in town. He was a bit of a mystery and hard-to-get because he always seemed to have a different girl in the wings. This was plenty enough for Sally Jay to pursue him--when she could find him.

What is so pleasing about this voice is its bare-faced honesty. Sally Jay has dreams of luxury but most of her plans turn out rather differently. What at first seems like a sophisticated local boyfriend turns out to be a rather officious and salacious old bore. Her trip to “the south of France” in May suffers several weeks of unending rain. Her hair, dyed blonde for more pop, turns greenish in the sun. Her “big break” in the movies does turn out to be so—but only for another of her party.

She has fun anyway, and so do we. Listening to her complain is much more fun than imagining she got all she wanted out of excursions. She has a heart, we know, because it is so tender. When the film director she’d met down south invites her to dine when she gets back to Paris, they talk about avocados: how the hard center seed can just be put in water and it sends out shoots and roots wherever it is. Sally Jay never had much success with avocados…her center perhaps was not hard enough.

This book is about 250 pages but it reads like a novel one-third its length. Sally Jay has so much momentum, it takes nothing to follow her tale with real curiosity. When will she learn an important lesson and how will she react? The story is fascinating because Dundy could have ended it much earlier than she does, but she keeps us on to give us significance and meaning and true joy and romance. At one point tears sprang from my eyes quite suddenly: she must have groomed us closer emotionally than I was aware. We buy into the myth of Sally Jay, and don’t want to see her fail. And the last two words of the book are as cryptic and inappropriate and school-girlish as Sally Jay herself.

Best of all, the New York Review Books (nyrb) 2007 edition has an Afterword by Elaine Dundy all these years later which explains to some extent the origins of the character of Sally Jay Gorce and the public's reaction to her over the years. Originally published in 1958, it has gone through countless reprints and still sells successfully today. It is a pleasure to hear how natural it was for Dundy to create the character. It was not a tortured creation scene, and it is not a tortured read. Treat yourself.

I read this book along with the nyrb Classics Group, so click on the link if you want to follow the discussion. It’s a terrific summer read.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,945 followers
January 26, 2011
I didn't care much for this book, in fact I didn't finish it. It wasn't terrible, just kinda boring when it was billed as being funny. I'm surprised it has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. Not that great, but as usual, I copied some things I liked from it.

I really liked this line about people who are trying too hard to be different or radical:

"They were most of them so violently individualistic as to be practically interchangeable."

And this one about thinking you know people close to you:

"It's amazing how right you can sometimes be about a person you don't know; it's only the people you do know who confuse you."
Profile Image for Kaya.
261 reviews52 followers
January 17, 2021
This was SO much more fun than I was expecting. Evening dresses on laundry days, pink hair, and endless partying.... Try keeping up with Sally Jay Gorce, a girl about town. Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado portrays the adventures of a young American in 1950’s Paris in an incredibly authentic and modern voice. Through Sally Jay’s witty (often LOL-funny), unyielding, and strangely perceptive character, this novel carries wonderful momentum despite lacking any serious plot.

I chose this book for a reading prompt (a book your best friend would like) hoping to reminisce on our (mis)adventures in Paris and was not disappointed.

Some quotes that made me giggle:
“I thought of sex and sin; of my body and all the men in the world who wouldn’t sleep with it.”

“The vehemence of my moral indignation surprised me. Was I beginning to have standards and principles, and, oh dear, scruples? What were they, and what would I do with them, and how much were they going to get in my way?”

“But I am so tired. I don’t want to have to wrestle with a horde of strangers. I just want to eat about a hundred million oysters and two tons of caviar and go swimming naked in champagne.”
Profile Image for Doug.
2,042 reviews743 followers
August 28, 2023
4.5, rounded down.

Under different circumstances, I might have judged this slight bagatelle a bit more harshly, but in the annus horribilis that is 2020, it came as a delicious surprise ... and just the perfect antidote to all the misery and PTSD of the past few months. To the very short pantheon of indelibly original and slightly ditsy female literary characters: Lorelei Lee, Holly Golightly, Delysia LaFosse - one must make room for the unique Sally Jay Gorce, a faux naïf getting into mishaps and mischief in 1950's Paris. Although rarely LOL funny, it IS consistently amusing, droll and witty, and often slips in some quite surprisingly insightful bon mots. It is the epitome of literary comfort food - a book I suspect one could come back to every few years just to fall into its delightful charms and forget one's own troubles.
Profile Image for Stephen.
200 reviews6 followers
March 26, 2013
If navel-gazing were a sport, Elaine Dundy would win olympic gold. In this pointless pseudo-novel (actually a memoir), which reads like A Moveable Feast crossed with Sex and the City (yet somehow managing to surpass both in banality and narcissism), a young American expatriate in Paris deals with such vital problems as "if I could only figure out if it was Larry I was in love with, or just love" and the worry that she's too much of a stereotypical tourist (and then wondering if her worrying is itself a fulfillment of the stereotype). True to form, she only frequents other expatriates—except to experience the thrill of becoming the maîtresse of local men—giggling at one point with her neighbour "at the absurdity of knowing a Frenchman in France." A flawless portait of self-absorption by an author not entirely devoid of writing talent, but without a single interesting thing to say. The Dud Avocado should one day be studied in anthropology courses, but never by students of literature.
Profile Image for Jim.
2,098 reviews699 followers
January 17, 2015
Let's see: An American girl on her own in Paris during the 1950s. Sounds pretty cut-and-dried, doesn't it? Except, in this case, it isn't. Elaine Dundy and her character, Sally Jay Gorce, are originals. It's far too easy to write one of those la-la here we are in Paris books, but more difficult to recognize that wherever you go, there you are. Getting to that "you" is like trying to figure out how to eat an avocado if you've never seen one before. Just bite into it through the skin, and it's ptui! Bite down too hard, and you might lose a tooth on the hard pit.

The Dud Avocado is like the story of the old sea captain who, having been asked how he knew how to navigate the harbor so expertly, replied that he had run aground on all the reefs and rocks. So it is with Sally Jay, who, with all the exuberance of youth, runs into a crowd that ranges from an aging Italian playboy to a dotty countess to a would-be director to a painter to a Canadian lumberjack to a bunch of movie types and gets run through the mill without losing her essential goodness. At one point, she says, "I feel as if I'd been wandering through life like one of those comic-strip characters, while right, left and center buckets of paint were falling off ladders, and cars were crashin into each other."

There are a lot of book somewhat like this one, but none of them have Dundy's touch for characterization and voice. As Ernest Hemingway wrote in a letter to the author, "I liked the way your characters all speak differently.... My characters all sound the same because I never listen."

The Dud Avocado is the 20th Century's answer to Daisy Miller, and a whole lot more fun to read.
Profile Image for Nikki.
494 reviews124 followers
March 4, 2011
Elaine Dundy knows how to capture a scene. The parts of the book where something is actually happening work like gangbusters. The dialogue is clever but realistic. The details are pertinent but also hilarious. Most of the first chapter is a really long scene between the narrator and her new crush as they chat at a Paris café. If you are anything like me, this scene will pull you in. And you’ll assume that the rest of the book will continue in this fashion. But the book has other plans.

Every so often there will be another great scene, well-told, but most of the time you’ll find yourself skipping over large paragraphs of filler material and plot twists that seem kind of pointless. This will depress you because the narrator’s dry sense-of-humor had such promise early on. But now that you know the story isn’t going anywhere, what’s the point? This book has a pseudo-memoir feel to it, and when memoirs have structural problems, you can’t really blame them because, hey, that’s life. Life is messy. Novels shouldn’t be.
Profile Image for Beth Bonini.
1,303 reviews282 followers
February 9, 2017
"You know, these American girls are just like avocados." "A hard center with the tender meat all wrapped up in a shiny casing."

If someone were to describe this book to me I would definitely find it appealing: 1950s Parisian setting; a young American girl experiencing freedom for the first time, falling in and out of love, arms wide open to adventure. The cover is great; the title is funny and memorable; it has a 'classic' but slightly hipster provenance; it all added up to high reading hopes. Sadly, it just didn't deliver.

Sally Jay Gorce, aspiring actress and adventuress, is all breezy voice and bad choices - but even her dramas fail to be entirely engaging. The writing can be very clever; it definitely has a certain insouciant, knowing style to it, but where was the substance? I kept getting drawn into the story, but only to be disappointed. In the afterword, author Elaine Dundy claims that Ernest Hemingway praised her characters for all speaking differently. That may be so, but they still weren't very memorable. In two days, I don't think I could tell you the difference between Teddy, Larry, Jim, Bax or Max - much less remember their names. No one seemed real; there was no internal character development, not even for our narrator and protagonist. You can't even describe this as a "coming of age" story because Sally Jay truly didn't seem to learn anything. The "meet cute" ending - where she drops some library books on the head of a man who has supposedly been looking for her, high and low - just seemed preposterous. Strangely enough, Dundy claims that the book is based on her own youthful adventures . . . but it had the cardboard cut-out reality of a Hollywood "B" film. My actual rating would be 2.5 stars; it has some charm, but just not enough. I didn't learn anything; I wasn't emotionally engaged; all in all, it was a surprisingly forgettable reading experience.
Profile Image for Anmiryam.
787 reviews137 followers
December 9, 2014
Charming and evanescent, Elaine Dundy's novel of the madcap adventures of a young expatriate in Paris is a whirligig of a book. Imagine an unsentimental version of Audrey Hepburn, intelligent but a bit ditzy, toss in a healthy dollop of sexual and romantic hijinks and deliver it in a rollicking voice that is never less than fresh and you will begin to get a sense of what it's like to read 'The Dud Avocado.' It's charming from page one, and just when you think that the book is nothing but verbal charm, and may in fact be overlong and without structure, and you are thinking "Why do people rave about this book, it's fun, but nothing special?" At that point exactly, Dundy pulls a plot of the air that ties together Sally Jay's random adventures and will make you clap a hand across your mouth in disbelief and cry, "No, really? Really?" Then you will laugh and shake your head and say, "Yes, she really did that and it works."

Go read it. You won't regret it. It's diverting. Plus it's one of the best portraits of being young (with all of it's self-centered cruelty combined with self-doubt and developing knowledge of the world) I've ever read.

Profile Image for Daniela.
175 reviews91 followers
January 22, 2020
I wish I could've brought myself to care about this. I really didn't. The three stars are for Paris, which I greatly miss, and where I've been in equal parts very happy and terribly unhappy.
Profile Image for J..
458 reviews191 followers
February 14, 2017
And then one day, one memorable day in the early evening, I stumbled across the Champs-Élysées. I know it seems crazy to say, but before I actually stepped onto it, I had not been aware of its existence. No, I swear it... All at once I found myself standing there gazing down that enchanted boulevard in the blue, blue, evening. Everything seemed to fall into place. Here was all the gaiety and glory and sparkle I knew was going to be life if I could just grasp it. I began floating down those Elysian Fields three inches off the ground, as easily as a Cocteau character floats thru Hell...

Knowing, mocking send-up, of the adventurous innocent-abroad genre... happily knowing that the mocking is often naïve, and also that the target of the joke is going to be the narrator. This is the first of two Elaine Dundy books, both fictionalized memoirs about being young, cocky, smart-assed and fragile. Notwithstanding its title, 'The Dud Avocado' feels fresh, brightly unaware of itself, and unaware of the trickery in store for its heroine.

In the present volume she will negotiate expat life on the Left Bank, new love, deceit and French waiters, all without smudging much mascara:

The waiters at the Select comported themselves with that slightly theatrical mixture of charm, complicity and contempt that one would expect from servants in Hell. All you had to do was sit there at the beginning of an evening, feeling pristine and crisp, combed and scented, and order your very first drink (it could be something as innocent as a lemonade), for them to indicate by the slightest flicker of their merry eyes that they were aware as you that you were taking the fatal step down the road to ruin... all this they could predict for you as relentlessly as any Delphic Oracle, while at the same time it all struck them as so irresistibly funny they couldn't help chuckling...

Adventures keep everything jangling along and what eventually transpires is that self-told tale of the graduate Ingenue, a wittily antic amble through the foothills of (what emerges as) adulthood. Holly Golightly, but written by an actual woman. From here, move right along to the better book, The Old Man And Me, where concision and polish tighten the screws on the same rocky ride.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,493 reviews378 followers
September 27, 2019
If I had just read the first half of this book, I would have given it 5 stars. I found it hilarious, of the actual laugh-out-loud kind, something which I rarely do when reading. I loved the narrator, Sally Jay Groce and her mis-adventures as a young American girl in Paris. Sally is wild but somehow despite her behavior retains a certain innocence. She is witty and self-deprecating and her take on those around her is acerbic and amusing.

However, half-way through the book, I grew tired of Sally (which is fatal in a book like this where everything depends on the reader's relationship with the narrator; in this case, I think, meant to be a friendly one). I was tired of her use of dull slang, her constant putting down of herself, her adventures, repetitive in their nature, and of the cynical world in which she is living. In the first half, I was thrilled to be in Paris with her but by the second half I was as tired of it as she became. There were many moments which I enjoyed, especially in the last few sections but there was a long patch in the middle where I kept wanting to just stop reading.

So I don't know whether or not to recommend this book to others. Where it is good, it is superlative. But where it's not (in my opinion: many others feel differently) it is hard to get through. In the end, I was glad to have read it, the positives outweighed the negatives, but it was more work than I would have liked. The very end felt tacked on and despite the humor (of which there was a great deal) the book left me mildly depressed.
Profile Image for Christy.
124 reviews51 followers
December 20, 2008
"The Dud Avocado" chronicles the adventures of Sally Jay Gorce, an American bon vivant living in Paris (pink hair; a married Italian lover; once ran away to become a bull-fighter). A delightful cross between "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "A Moveable Feast". I can't believe this progressive novel was written in the fifties.
Profile Image for Emily W.
245 reviews8 followers
January 27, 2015
Oh man, why don't we read this instead of Catcher in the Rye? It should be that famous. Too much sex-talk, lesbians, and liberated women I guess. And while I wouldn't like the narrator if I could meet her in person, I really valued being shown somebody so different from myself. And the writing! Why don't we read this instead of Hemingway!? I ask you. I'd take this over 1000 old fishermen.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,359 reviews793 followers
February 28, 2021
Sally Jay, the main character of this novel, is my mother. Scratch that, she's what my mother hoped to be, before the US tech boom and a jealous husband with anger management issues and no small inclination towards pedophilia trapped her in a neighborhood whose French was nonexistent and whose white share of the local population was steadily declining with every passing year. Francophile, beloved, incompetent, able to fake her way through any social interaction for the sake of that next thrill/rung in the ladder, sailing through the streets of Paris with the kind of US debonair attitude towards self and others that considers itself "street-smart" while being the most tyrannical puritan to ever sniff at sex workers and the abortion clinic. Bottle that up at home with two failed attempts to produce a cis son undergoing their own coming of ages in plain view, and you get the type of parent that would be considered a "tiger mom" were she not the most supremacist in being the whitest thing on that side of the Atlantic, but that's not the story that this work tells. What this work is concerned with is the trust fund, gap year, cishet white girl who would want to be the next Judy Garland were it not for that figure's aura involving those "dirty" queers, so she goes overseas and settles for Édith Piaf. According to various reviews and this work's introduction, it's supposed to be funny watching this person completely reject any modicum of responsibility, compassion, or interpersonal relationships that don't automatically froth to the surface, backstabbingly gleeful, in the kinds of connections that heralded the networks of influencers and co. of today, and it's a mystery why this work needs to keep being rescued from the depths of obscurity every few decades or so. What ever could it be.

I'm usually on the side of the woman writer whose work keeps undergoing such rises and falls as this one has, especially in the world of works that are past the 50 year, aka my own personal definition of a classic, mark (and especially if there's a NYRB Classics cover involved). Here, though, I have to say that most of the folks who like this sort of thing have died, and the cyclical surges in popularity is nothing more than a table tennis match played between fewer and fewer numbers: some in the higher echelons of who determines what is re-branded as Literature, most in the higher echelons of the audience who consumes said Literature, all who think certain places and communities exist solely for the obnoxious timebombs that certain breeds of US citizen are so emblematically representative of. There's the using the queer community as an accessory, the never planning and subsequent throwing physically violent fits when the never planning devolves as it always does, the cruelly bullheaded yet oh so fragile entity of female heterosexuality that's far too busy thinking about what everyone else thinks and viciously judging accordingly to actually explore their own preferences for sex and sensuality: it's white, it's predatory, and it's why the whole 'oh look how dreadful white men are in expecting me to completely reduce myself to the status of trophy housewife at some point' is such an overused sympathy ploy. Its modern version is the female jocks, alongside which a good friend of mine had to live before she escaped from the single person dorm rooms and into our shared apartment, who disregarded the need for regular sleep schedules of neighbors, had sex on the communal sinks, and left used condoms on the tank covers of the communal toilets. Dealing with those types makes me want to hurl them and my entire voting demographic into the sun. Reading their writing, oozing as it does with the constant need for the affirmation of the Right others, whether through amusement, sympathy, pity, or even utilitarian disdain, alongside an almost as strong need to affably dump on, quirkily diss, and politely dehumanize the Wrong others, is not nearly as hard, but lord, now I know where a good portion of the Trump white woman vote is coming from.

This is a story of a born and bred US upper middle class WASP woman who fucks off to Paris, does her best to become the 1950s form of a hipster, realizes her life is an empty morass of those with money and those without, returns to the US with some idea of developing an actual personality, and then gives in to the dream of the white trophy housewife life of the rich and famous all over again. It's tedious in its thinking patterns, a spoiled brat in its interrelationships, and would be pitifully sympathetic were it not for its affable hate for everyone else, embodied by the kind of emotional zeal that labels certain US cities "sketch" for not having a population that's not, at minimum, 75% white. I kept a copy of this work around until its publication date came in handy, and now that it's done, I gotta say, some US white women work real hard at stamping down on the backs of others in order to bring their own sorts of stereotypes onto themselves. I'm not going to pretend that a part of me didn't wish that I could let my brain just fly away and enjoy the rapturous levels of financial stability that resulted from clinging to the status quo with all my vacuous strength, but another part of me recognizes the vicious roulette of that breed of Faustian bargain and, above all, how obscenely lucky this fictional Sally Jay was. A change of pace from the doom and gloom of a young (white) woman setting out on her own, I suppose, but lord, she could've at least been less inexorably boring.
[T]he magistrate, like most Frenchmen, could apparently do without Americans but not without Art[.]
Oh, for whatever reason could that be.
Profile Image for G.G..
Author 5 books116 followers
September 7, 2018
Sally Jay Gorce is the narrator of this coming-of-age tale, a 21-year-old American in Paris in 1955, and of course the “dud avocado” of the title. As one of the many tiresome older-and-wiser men who populate the novel explains to her:
“You know, these American girls are just like avocados….” His avocado arrived and he looked at it lovingly. “The Typical American Girl,” he said, addressing it. “A hard center with the tender meat all wrapped up in a shiny casing.” He began eating it. “How I love them,” he murmured greedily. “So green—so eternally green.” He winked at me. (p. 224)
Ouch. With a couple of exceptions, the male characters are all like the avocado eater: endlessly patronizing as they pat the narrator’s hand, ruffle her hair, invite friends for dinner (“You can’t cook…why, good Lord, Sally Jay, I thought every girl knew how to cook,” p. 144), and say things like, “Cheer up, Gorce. Behave yourself and I’ll tell you something nice.” (p. 178) One can only agree with Sally: “I reflected wearily that it was not easy to be a Woman in these stirring times. I said it then and I say it now: it just isn’t our century.” (p. 55)

Sally Jay’s adventures are based on the author’s own. “When people ask me how autobiographical the book is,” Dundy writes in her afterword, “I say, all the impulsive, outrageous things my heroine does, I did. All the sensible things she did, I made up.” (p. 260)

There are no developed French characters here, and the novel could easily have become a rather wearisome account of Americans behaving badly in Paris and the south of France: pages of bar-crawling, epic drinking, and youthful silliness (“We drove off to Béhobie in the lavender Cadillac with the hood down, Wheero [a Spanish bullfighter] and I sitting on top, our feet on the back seat, waving to the cars that passed and nearly falling off at every corner,” p. 187).

What saves the novel is the authenticity of the narrator’s voice: “And so, wearing an aggrieved and, I hoped, slightly blackmailed expression on my face, and altogether putting up what must have been for him a most distressing display of reluctance, I eventually allowed myself to be persuaded back to his apartment.” (p. 47) “Received a sweet letter from [ex-lover] Jim today. Must write him soon. Must, must, must.” (p. 170) “Stop the taxi! Take me home… I have to catch a train… I thought vaguely of saying.… Not that anyone could have guessed from the limp, humming form that remained in Max’s arms that there was any kind of a battle raging around inside.” (pp. 247-48)

There are also some wonderfully mordant observations:
I mean, the question actors most often get asked is how they can bear saying the same things over and over again night after night, but God knows the answer to this is, don’t we all anyway; might as well get paid for it. (p. 130)
To be honest, I think I would have enjoyed Dundy's novel more if I'd read it, oh, let's say thirty years ago!
Profile Image for Georgia James.
41 reviews
January 26, 2022
GAH I loved this, it was fun. I’m not sure it will ever hit the spot with any future version of me like it does with 22 year old me, but that’s half the joy. I imagine this is how 16 year old boys feel when they read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. Except happier.
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 3 books3,373 followers
October 8, 2012
I bought this on the street for $3. I'm really mystified, though: I was totally sure that I'd read a glowing review of it by Emily Gould some time ago, but the internet is hiding it from me or something. Does anyone know what I'm talking about? Was it not Emily but someone else? I mean, someone put it in my head that this was one to grab, I didn't just make it up.

Anyways. Super terrifically swell. It's a story of a twenty-something gal in Paris in the fifties being sexy and young and silly and frivolous. She sleeps with men and drinks too much and loses her passport and breaks hearts and eats decadent food and falls in love day after day after day, with a bullfighter, with a childhood pal, with a married man, with being young and without responsibilities in Paris. The voice is just fabulously wry and bubbly and engaging -- I was going to quote from it for you but I already loaned the book out, the day I finished it, because it is so so much fun. Get it, it's so lovely!
Profile Image for Maureen.
213 reviews191 followers
September 3, 2011
the dud avocado reads like a witty woman's take on the sun also rises, with the pink-haired protagonist sally jay gorce, an often silly struggling ingenue, going to parties, falling in love, and trying to find herself in paris in the fifties. eventually, she goes on a road trip to spain where she ends up as an extra on a bullfighter movie, and partying some more. unfortunately, for me the book began to drag while she was there, and i found the ending was rushed, grafted on, and out of sync with the rest of the book, though i expect fans of happy endings will find it just right.

meanwhile, i fell in love with the main cad. what a surprise! (not really)

this is a very likeable and entertaining novel -- i was torn as to whether i could give it 4 stars -- let's understand this as a 3.5.
Profile Image for Zoe Giles.
144 reviews387 followers
January 3, 2022
3.5 stars

a very fun read, especially for the time it was written. Gave me City of Girls vibes.

Only reason it’s not a 4 is because there were a few sections I felt dragged a little but on the whole I loved the setting, I LOVED the protagonist and how messy she was, and I really enjoyed the plot

Good start to the 2022 reading yeah
2 reviews
October 1, 2007
I picked this one up per Terry Teachout's recommendation - he's the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, and also wrote an excellent biography of H.L. Mencken. This is a favorite of his, and I certainly wasn't disappointed - you'd be hard pressed to find a better light reading experience. It's an innocent abroad story - Sally Jay Gorce travels to Paris, pursues acting, loses her virginity, and does all the funny things you'd expect an inexperience girl to do in a foreign city. It's laugh-out-loud funny, and how can you not like a book with great lines like "they were so violently individualistic as to be practically interchangeable" and "it's amazing how right you can be about a person you don't know; it's only the people you do know who confuse you."
Profile Image for Michael.
837 reviews615 followers
May 3, 2017
Sally Jay Gorce is a young American tourist trying to conquer Paris in the late 1950’s. Often compared to Edith Wharton and Henry James who both wrote about American girls abroad, the Dud Avocado is a romantic and comedic adventure unlike anything I’ve read before. A novel that gained cult status quickly, this is a quirky story of a woman hell-bent on really living.

This is really a hard novel to review, simply because I don’t want to give people too many expectations or spoil the plot in any way. The Dud Avocado is the type of novel you go into not really knowing what to expect and just let it take you on a journey. Never knowing which direction Elaine Dundy is planning to take and never really understanding Sally Jay Gorce’s choices. She is a woman that wants to live life to the fullest and experience everything that is out there for her; is it a good idea? Most definitely not, but she picks herself up and continues. She is going to make her romantic mark on Paris and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.

I find myself reminded a little of A Sport and a Pastime in parts but mainly when I think of France, the lust and passion. After that it is more similar to a beat novel with a female protagonist travelling around Paris looking for love and passion. She is smart, sexy, hilarious and frivolous; Sally Jay is sure to charm every man in the City.

At times I enjoyed the journey I was on and then there were times I just felt lost and unsure of what will happen next. The book seems to dip in and out of this feeling of excitement, full of adventures and misadventures, then it just peters out and remains a little flat. The whole novel felt just like Sally Jay’s life, no plans, no direction, just taking it one day after another; we may have an adventure but sometimes we don’t. This was a really interesting tactic, I felt like her life was an enigma and every attempt to try understanding her failed. Real people are never meant to be simple and Elaine Dundy created a truly complex character in Sally Jay Gorce.

Think Breakfast at Tiffany’s if it was written by a beat author. The Dud Avocado is going to take you on a journey without a road map; you won’t know if you’ll ever get to the final destination but you’ll get somewhere. Like I said before, I don’t want to spoil the journey, I think something really interesting has been done here and it is worth looking into.

I’m a little surprised this was set in the late 1950’s, this sort of sexual freedom normally goes hand and hand with the 1970’s. But then again this is France and they have a stereotypical reputation for being progressive. I don’t know enough about social behaviours of the time, especially in Paris but I can’t help but think this novel pretty accurate. The Dud Avocado did have a very authentic feel to it. It’s an unusual novel but it was well worth the experience.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://www.knowledgelost.org/random/r...
Profile Image for Bookish Bethany.
257 reviews26 followers
August 5, 2021
Oh Sally Jay Gorce, despite wanting to fall in love with 'The Dud Avocado's heroine I found her intolerably obnoxious and silly.

Sally Jay, touted from her sheltered life in America to Paris (all expenses paid by her uncle, of course), essentially lives a naive and ludicrous 'gap yah'. Sally goes to Paris dreaming of the Ritz, jewellery, affairs with rich men and expensive designer outfits and finds herself in all sorts of ridiculous situations. Sally is fickle, boisterous and falls for every dough-eyed boy she meets - calling them the love of her life and leaving them in an instant when the next shiny opportunity pops up. It is ironic that while wanting the authentic experience of adulthood and independence, Sally's lifestyle is only made possible with the money of her family. She drifts and drifts and does not know what it really is that she wants.

Despite this, there is something compelling and charming about the girl, with her shock of pink hair and impulsiveness. I felt like I was her when I went to university at 19 and had my first taste of freedom - it's exciting the first time you leave home - getting myself into all sorts of trouble, never wanting to slow down, not knowing what I wanted (I still don't), spending all night in bars and clubs and the houses of people I'd just met. Maybe there's a bit of Sally Jay in all of us.

A bit of a feelgood romp, nothing spectacular.
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