Saturday, November 24, 2007

VALLEY OF THE DOLLS by Jacqueline Susann

The Book: Jacqueline Susann, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. Grove Press trade paperback reprint, 2000 (originally published 1966). Fine condition.
First read: 2000
Owned since: 2000

I can't end Guilty Pleasures Week without a post about the trashiest book I own, a book so tacky that it has become a classic on its own terms.

Valley of the Dolls is one of the best-selling novels of all time, but I don't remember my mother owning a copy. I do remember trying to read Once is Not Enough as a young adolescent, because I'd heard it was dirty, but I didn't get far because the writing was terrible and the characters bored me.

I don't know what I'd have made of Valley of the Dolls as an adolescent. I missed it somehow, and then got snobby about it; of course I wouldn't waste my time on Valley of the Dolls.

But then my friend Matt made a deal to write a screenplay adaptation for a new movie version, so I felt obligated to pick up a copy. The edition I bought has a a cut-out cover displaying the stars of the first movie version -- Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, and the doomed Sharon Tate.

For anyone not already familiar with the plot, it's the story of the rise and fall of three young women who come to New York City to find their fortunes after the Second World War. Anne is a quiet New England girl, seduced by the glamor of the rakish Lyon Burke; Neely is a Judy Garland-style entertainer desperate to be loved; Jennifer is a sad beauty who thinks her body is her only asset. The "dolls" are the pills they take to keep working, to sleep, to lose weight, to fill the emptiness of their lives. Not all of them make it through the Valley alive.

You could throw a pretty great party just by inviting people to do dramatic readings from Valley of the Dolls. The writing is dreadful, from the terrible poem that starts the book ("You've got to climb to the top of Mount Everest/to reach the Valley of the Dolls./It's a brutal climb to reach that peak,/which so few have seen") to the last lines ("And from now on, she could never be hurt badly. She could always keep busy during the day, and at night -- the lonely ones -- there were always the beautiful dolls for company...").

But it's a gripping story, and it's also a time capsule, a sociological artifact of post-war New York and Los Angeles. I have a feeling people will still be reading Valley of the Dolls long after all of us are dead and gone.

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