By Jacqueline Susann
At a time when women were destined to become housewives, Jacqueline Susann let us dream. Anne, Neely, and Jennifer become best friends as struggling young women in New York City trying to make their mark. Eventually, they climb their way to the top of the entertainment industry only to find that there’s no place left to go but down, into the Valley of the Dolls. (Book Description via Good Reads)
Published: 1966 (Original), 2016 (my edition)
Read and Reviewed: January-February 2018
I will be honest, I picked up this book up for The Marina and The Diamonds song reference alone (I suggest you take a listen). This was not quite what I expected. A great alternative title for this would be “Why Hollywood is evil for women and the pressure of the media is out to destroy them.” That’s exactly what happens to three young women who were friends when their careers began; they are consumed by fame, media pressures, and addiction to sleeping pills or dolls as they often called by Jen and Neely through out the book.
This book was disturbing but entirely necessary though not my favorite read. It’s terribly interesting in the middle of the story where Anne is struggling to choose between Alan and Lyon, Jen makes her first appearance and Neely is still tolerable. In fact, I was quite disappointed. I knew pretty early on that it wasn’t going to end well for the girls but I didn’t like the ending at all. The beginning was also slow to start.
Poor Jen is portrayed as the constant victim. I wanted to like her- she’s a decent person- but she gets pushed around by pretty much everyone except Anne who tries and fails to save her. Her backstory features her briefly being the “kept girl” of her former lesbian classmate, a rich Spanish heiress named Maria. It was a pretty terrible example of the predatory lesbian trope. I think Jen is supposed to be bisexual since she mentions that she would have dated Anne if she had the chance but this doesn’t go anywhere since Anne is straight. She first marries Tony Polar who has some kind of mental disorder. Out of nowhere, Tony rapes her while she’s trying to talk to Anne on the phone. She divorces Tony, not because of that, but because his sister basically strong arms her into leaving him. Jen then leaves for France to become an art house film star where she takes off her clothes. It’s not porn exactly but back in the 1950s and 60s this would be considered very risqué. Jen returns to America to do Hollywood, reuniting with Anne. She soon falls in love with a senator before things fall apart. Neely helps her start her pill addiction following her return from France.
Anne has her share of man troubles as well. At first, she ultimately has a man chasing after her who doesn’t understands what no means (Alan). It takes forever for him to finally leave her alone. She nearly marries him because she doesn’t know how to stand up for herself. But then she falls for Lyon Burke who works in her agency. She and Lyon have an affair but Lyon leaves her for England over the fact that she doesn’t want to move back to her hometown, where she owns her family home. She refused to return because she knows she’ll be depressed if she stays there. She knows that she belongs in New York City now. Lyon very immaturely throws a tantrum and then escapes to London leaving Anne alone for nearly a decade. Anne is then picked up by a fashion line that wants her to be the model and she starts working for Kevin. She nearly marries Kevin after working ten years for him but she ditches him last minute for Lyon who has miraculously returned from England.
Neely was the vaudeville dancer who went Hollywood rather quickly. At first, she’s a nice kid but she quickly turns into a horribly selfish monster who thinks the world owes her everything. Fame pretty much destroys Neely’s personality and health. She’s the first of the three girls to get addicted to pills. She ends up losing her husband and kids and having to go to a mental hospital for over a year to try and break her addiction. After she comes out of the hospital, she starts working for Lyon’s company. She ultimately betrays Anne by sleeping with Lyon and threatening to kill herself every time Lyon tries to go back to Anne (to whom he is now married).
The ending is sad for each of the girls. Jen kills herself because she finds out that she has breast cancer and she is afraid that the senator won’t marry her if she has to remove her breasts for health reasons. Neely becomes a total jerk. She uses Anne and betrays her by sleeping with Lyon. Lyon eventually fires Neely but he continues to cheat on Anne. At the end of the book, Anne has started taking the same sleeping pills that ruined Neely’s and ended Jen’s lives. She refuses to leave Lyon even though he is a serial cheater and ultimately not worth shit.
Supposedly this book was supposed to be cutting-edge and highly supportive for LGBT people. No, no, and no. Definitely not for our time, any way. There is the “predatory lesbian” (Maria) and the “greedy bisexual” (Ted, Neely’s husband). Also all of the gay men are referred to disparagingly. Neely insults the nurses she doesn’t like by calling them slurs too. To be queer is not a good thing in this book; probably a mark of the times but in that regard, this book has not aged well.
My rating: 2.5 stars. I probably won’t read this again. It was pretty outrageous. There were some points where I could sympathize with the characters since the entertainment industry has a history of treating women horribly. Even Neely was sympathetic in the beginning. But there is so much misogyny, that it was pretty gross. There were no male characters that were really all that nice. Henry maybe a little bit but even he was an enabler of other men’s bad behavior. This book does kind of read as the trashy gossip papers but in a novel form (many other readers mention this and I agree). So if you like that genre of writing, you may enjoy this book more than I did.
Warnings/Triggers: Suicide, Drug usage (pills), Abortion, Rape, Misogyny and Homophobia. If any of these things are triggers for you, you may not want to read this book.