Yes, it’s trashy, but it’s also great, and it tapped into the zeitgeist in 1966. As a fan of pop women’s fiction, I was interested to read in The New York Times that a 50th anniversary edition of Jacqueline Susann’s The Valley of the Dolls will be published by Grove Press in July. Judy Hottensen, the associate publisher of Grove Atlantic, told the Times she hopes it will appeal to young women raised on “Girls” and “Sex and the City.”
It took me many years to get around to Valley of the Dolls, and it pleasantly surprised me. Susann’s pop classic proceeds along the lines of Nancy Hale’s The Prodigal Women and Mary McCarthy’s The Group: it is the story of three young women who move to New York, become friends at the beginning of their careers, and climb the ladder of the entertainment industry, not without much popping of pills. Anne, the emotionally stable one from New England, works as a secretary and then becomes a model. She doesn’t need pills (well, only very briefly). But you can imagine what the pills do to Neely, the Broadway star who becomes a screaming home-wrecking harridan, and Jennifer, the lovely, sweet, pill-dependent woman who decides to act in French art films because no one values her for anything except her body.
Here’s the jacket copy from my old paperback:
Dolls: red or black, capsules or tablets, washed down with vodka or swallowed straight–for Anne, Neely, and Jennifer, it doesn’t matter, as long as the pill bottle is within easy reach. These three women become best friends when they are young and struggling in New York City and then climb to the top of the entertainment industry–only to find there’s nowhere to go but down–into the Valley of the Dolls.
All right, this book is not for everybody–but it is for the beach!
2 in The New Republic, Maggie Doherty says Kate Millet’s best-selling 1970 classic of feminist criticism, Sexual Politics, still speaks to us. (I read this in the seventies, and though I certainly didn’t agree with Millet about D. H. Lawrence, I thought she was astute about Henry Miller and Norman Mailer.)
3 Barbara Ellen at The Guardian thinks that single women now have things harder than Bridget Jones did in the ’90s. She writes, “The issue is that Bridget Jones is a true creature of the 1990s, and the 1990s not only seem a painfully long time ago, but painfully innocent, too.”