At the same book sale where I picked up my previous impulse review ("Lost in Rooville". a pleasant surprise in genre and quality) I also picked up the much traveled Valley of the Dolls, a book by an author everybody has heard of. I decided to try it just to see what made this such a sensational tell-all novel and movie in the 60's.
And what I found was that not even 50 years after publication, this book is barely readable as fiction. It is so dated, cliched, and quaintly naive that it can really be read only as a cultural artifact. Any work by Shakespeare, Defoe, Hardy, Dickens, Twain, Hugo, Tolstoy will read as more modern and vital than this. The difference is in the relevance and quality of the writing, and the good writer's ability to write without cliches (or refusal to rest on cliche when better writing is at hand).
Foremost of the cliches is the title itself, dolls of course being slang for sleeping pills. The story follows the careers of three young women in New York who find themselves in show business: Anne, the "classy broad" (yes, that cliche is used in the book) with looks and manners who seems to be always charge, the naif Nelly who has talent to make it big but lacks discipline to survive as a star, and the tragic Jennifer, who learns to sell her gorgeous body to get whatever she wants but peace and contentment. Arriving in the post-war excitement of 1945 New York, each has success and seems destined for something great, but each gives up much and gets less.
What's interesting is that despite its reputation as trashy tell-all show-biz fiction, the novel is terminally tame, barely pg-13 by today's standards, and reads like a cautionary tale targeted for female young-adult readers. Susann's writing is almost virginally innocent in its sincerity, a quality that gives the struggles and cynicism that come later in the character's lives whatever charm the book holds.
The movie was also notoriously trashy, and forever tragically marked by the Manson Family murder of rising young star Sharon Tate, who played Jennifer. A quick reading of the movie reviews onimdb.com reveals that the movie was as popular and as prolifically cliched as the book. So, enjoy your study of this cultural artifact of the 60's social revolution. Just don't expect a classic novel.
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is still one heck of a read. The story of three single girls in New York looking for love and excitement, and the ways in which their dreams are shattered by alcohol and pills (the 'dolls' of the title). Anne Welles (the good girl from small-town Lawrenceville), Neely O'Hara (the tenacious young Broadway starlet) and Jennifer North (the buxom showgirl/model) grab the readers' attention from the get-go with their engrossing stories. Though, … more
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Sex and drugs and shlock and more--Jacqueline Susann's addictively entertaining trash classic about three showbiz girls clawing their way to the top and hitting bottom in New York City has it all. Though it's inspired by Susann's experience as a mid-century Broadway starlet who came heartbreakingly close to making it, but did not, and despite its reputation as THE roman á clef of the go-go 1960s, the novel turned out to be weirdly predictive of 1990s post-punk, post-feminist, post "riot grrrl" culture. Jackie Susann may not be a writer for the ages, but--alas!--she's still a writer for our times.