Thursday, July 15, 2010

Valley of the Dolls and its deep, dark campiness

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Now I don’t mean to imply that Valley of the Dolls has seen its day in the sun—it is still quite effective. It’s a tad dated, yes, but in the best possible way (and at times, not so much). And I learned a new term out of it: roman à clef. Wiki explains it as “a novel describing real life behind a façade of fiction.” So a fancy term for satire, I guess. The plot describes the lives of three women rising to the top of the celebrity scene in the 1950’s. “Dolls” are the sleeping pills they take at night to counteract the diet pills they take during the day to keep them awake. All three women are affected by the dolls in different, tragic ways. And that’s where the novel’s power lies. Neely, the uppity youngster is the quintessential movie star. She gets her start in Broadway, and through raw talent and determination, claws her way to the top. We see the effects of her addiction quite noticeably. Jennifer and Anne both seem to have a handle on their lives, even if they are a bit rocky, so their tragic declines are more subversive and so a bit more disturbing. I was very much surprised at what happens to Jennifer, and even more so by Anne’s ending. I don’t want to spoil it, because it is a fun read, but the last scene in the book is pretty amazing. It seems to leave off on a high note, but when you actually realize what’s happening, it’s the saddest realization of all. When I first started at Mentor, a librarian who was just leaving the library highly recommended it to me. It took me till now to actually get around to reading it, and I’m glad I did. If you’ve only seen the movie, I hear there are a couple big differences, so it’s worth getting to the book.

And of course the movie, with the tragic Sharon Tate.

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