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Book: The Valley of the Dolls

June 8, 2010
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I’m in this weird sort of PMS grumpy mood, which might not be the best time to write a book review of a book that I didn’t love, but I know how much some of you love a good bad-book review! (Tammie!)

I’m really sorry, fans of this book (Lara, I’m looking at you), but I really didn’t get it. I really, really wanted to. I even read the whole thing! But… alas, rather like its sci-fi cousin The Stepford Wives, it fell kind of flat (apparently I liked it well enough when I wrote the review, but in retrospect, it was kind of boring).

So, I got it from the library because I’m thinking, hey, classic summer beachy trashy read, right? Well, sure. But this was written in 1966 and I don’t know what the deal is with pop novels in the 60s, but it was strangely flat, emotionless, pseudo-hip… it may be a classic of the genre, but it never really grabbed me.

I don’t know what I expected (never having seen the movie), but basically, it’s like this. Anne is a rich kid (unnaturally beautiful, of course) whose mother never loved her, to moves to NYC to live the life she’s always wanted. She immediately gets a great job as a secretary with an entertainment-biz lawyer. She lives in a crappy little apartment and her neighbor across the way is a scrappy little vaudevillian named Neely (who I kept picturing as Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap). Eventually the two of them are rising stars for different reasons. Anne manages to get engaged to the richest man in the world (or something like that), and Neely gets her big break on Broadway. But Anne doesn’t like this perfectly nice billionaire guy, oh noooooo, she falls head over heels for the, speaking of heels, English heel guy who everyone says, “Don’t fall for him!” but of course she does. So she falls in love with him, and of course he turns out to be a (charming, sexy) heel and eventually leaves her. She turns frigid (basically) and becomes a TV-commericial star. Because what else do you do when you get dumped by a sexy English heel?

So anyway, Neely (Hayley Mills) becomes the next Broadway sensation and pretty soon she’s in Los Angeles, married to a gay man (or is he?) and is a rising star in the movies. Soon, she commands Hollywood and, well, because she’s “Neely O’Hara goddammit!” she does the whole alcoholic-sleeping-pills diva bit. Over and over until finally Anne (still her friend, apparently.. or is she?) commits her to the loony bin. The expensive, spa-like asylum, where they lock her in the bathtub until she stops screaming three days later. Or something like that. Anyway, she’s playing the crazy, self-destructive diva.

So we’ve got the frigid ice-queen beauty, and the self-destructive but oh-so-talented diva hellion. What’s missing?

Oh right, the bombshell. Jennifer-somebody, whose story I found completely boring except for the part where she had a Lesbian (with a capital L) affair for several years, is the untalented ethereal beauty who eventually makes it big in French movies by taking her clothes off. Because she has an amazing body. I mean, a really amazing body. With amazing boobs. Boobs like you’ve never seen before. Did I mention the stellar, amazing, indescribably beautiful body that Jennifer has? It’s amazing. Anyway, so she’s got the boobs body of a goddess and is also a film star. Oh, and she becomes friends with Neely and Anne somewhere along the way, i can’t remember where in the story. But anyway, pretty soon she can’t sleep (insomnia? I can’t remember) and she’s addicted to the sleeping pills too.

They call them “dolls,” which annoyed me. Hence the title of the book.

Anyway. Soon of course it all goes to hell. Neely is in the crazy house. Jennifer has a series of cosmetic operations (to preserve her stunning, amazing, beautiful, stellar body and face) and somehow it is discovered that she has breast cancer and they have to cut off her (perfect, amazing) breast and rather than subject her angelic fiancee to a disfigured body, she kills herself. So, she’s gone.

Anne eventually dumps her current fiancee to go back to the English heel (of course) and I skimmed a few pages here, but somehow she ends up married to him and has a daughter, but of course he’s still a heel and cheats on her left and right (with Hayley Mills, even!) but he loves her, oh yes he does. But she’ll have a few sleeping pills just in case.

Oh right, and Neely is back on top. Or something. But she’s still drinking and taking dolls by the handful, so you know how long that will last.

Anyway, it was super-predictable and boring, with a few bright spots of over-the-top diva behavior (which I did appreciate), but the strange stilted, emotionless writing really killed it for me. I was marginally more interested once I did a little research and found out that Neely was not based on Hayley Mills, but rather Judy Garland, and Jennifer was modeled (sort of) after Marilyn Monroe, and I forget who Anne was modeled after. So that made it a little more interesting, but I expected to be delighted by the retro trashiness of it, but it was kind of disappointing.

She brushed her hair and freshened her makeup (as her husband made out with the next rising star next door in the bedroom). She looked fine. She had Lyon (the heel), the beautiful apartment, the beautiful child, the nice career of her own, New York — everything she had ever wanted. And from now on (cue hand to forehead) she could never be hurt badly. She could always keep busy during the day, and at night — the lonely ones (when Lyon was out whoring) —  there were always the beautiful dolls for company. She’d take two of them tonight. Why not? After all, it was New Year’s Eve! (what better time to black out entirely?)

Because tomorrow is another day!

So, I don’t know. It is a 60s pop thing? That weird, overly-casual-but-still-kind-of-formal writing? The unemotional tone? The flat characters? Is it because this was the frontrunner of the modern trashy faux-celebrity novel? Or is it chick-lit? No, there are some Lesbian scenes… definitely not chick lit. Sometimes when a book is “ahead of its time,” later on, it doesn’t hold up as well.

Sigh. Of course now I have to see the movie, because sometimes when I don’t like a book I actually like the movie (for instance: Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby, Witches of Eastwick). Camp translates better to film than paper, I think.

Thoughts? Am I ripping a classic? Am I completely tone deaf? Do you want to come over and watch the movie with me?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Lara Starr permalink
    June 8, 2010 10:48 pm

    I’ll watch the movie any time of day! Miss Patty Duke IS Neely O’Hara!!

    In fairness, for all of my talk about how much I love this book, it’s probably been 20 years since I’ve read it and it might not hold up as well as it does in my memory. But I do have a soft spot for the thing

  2. June 9, 2010 9:10 am

    I haven’t read the book but I liked your review of it 🙂 And if I lived closer I would be so there to guffaw over the movie with you!

  3. June 9, 2010 9:11 am

    Oh wow. I have to see the movie now. Absolutely. Lara, you should come over and we can have a trashy movie night.

  4. June 9, 2010 9:33 am

    oh yippee. ive been so waiting for you to review this one. if i lived just a smidge closer, id be watching the movie with you.

    was everyone in the sixties addicted to sleeping pills?

  5. June 9, 2010 9:42 am

    Everyone in Hollywood, apparently. I wish you and Stef both lived closer! We could have a movie night!

  6. Lara Starr permalink
    June 9, 2010 10:08 pm

    I’m totally up for trash movie night!

  7. June 13, 2010 1:59 pm

    Ok, now I HAVE to read this. Seriously, I’m trotting off to my library’s website to see if they have it.

    And I finally found your new site (dumb me…sorry!)

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