Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dangerous Doll Dilemmas

Omg, throwback!

So, you know how there are those cultural icons that we all recognize and "get" even if we haven't checked out the original? We all know the line, "it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," but was it Shakespeare or Yeats or wrote it? (It was Alfred Lord Tennyson, in case you were curious.)

Well, this month's novel is one of those. It's Valley of the Dolls, darling.

Valley of the Dolls was first published in 1966 by Jacqueline Susann. 1966. That's kind of way before my time. Super Mario didn't even exist yet. (Do you see how history can be a cruel mistress?) But people reference this novel left and right; "oh God, this is like a scene out of Valley of the Dolls," people say, especially when referencing one of those tragic soap operas. *"Nadia's Theme" starts playing in the background*

But what is Valley of the Dolls really about?

I'll tell you, so you'll know, and you can impress your friends. It's a novel about three young women, Anne, Jennifer, and Neely, who work in the arts and discover the helpfulness of little dolls (codeword for pills) that help them lose weight or sleep. Anne is the most formal of the trio, and is more or less the main character. Jennifer is a sweet girl known only for her amazing body, which causes her to question her intelligence capacity, and Neely is a young woman trying to make it big in Broadway and Hollywood.

The novel is a clear reflection on another cultural icon we have (that I won't try to explain here): the feminine mystique. All the girls really want to do (except for Anne, who feels crappy about the fact) is get married and bang out kids. That's the goal, and career comes second. Way to reach for the sky er, uterus, right? That's what makes this novel so interesting; it's Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in fiction form.

One thing that Susann does that really kind of shocked the pants off me was use the "f" word. And she used it a LOT. Not the f**k one, but the f*g one. Consider this exert from one of the secondary characters, Helen, a famous but lonely actress:
"Oh, I can always scare up someone. My designer will take me, or Bobby Eaves, my accompanist. But they're both fags. That's the trouble--no real men these days. Plenty of fags, but no men. I hate to go to an opening with a faggot. It's like wearing a sign: 'This is all I could get.'"

(Welcome to the entertainment industry, toots.)

With such a pottymouth, it's no wonder that this novel was so salacious, on top of scandalous infidelity moments, including that of one of the men sleeping around on his wife with other men. But in terms of narrative structure and social issues raised without bashing the reader across the face with them, Susann performs an excellent job. For being such an old (and therefore potentially outdatable) novel, it's certainly worth the read in one's free time to consider more than just it's cultural quote. It's rating? Totally Awesome.


But as a warning, totally don't skip out on the novel and only watch the film. I watched the film, and it was a bit of a disappointment. They changed the ending entirely, so, don't try to pass off as having read the novel and have just watched the film. You might get called on it. And barbiturates may get shoved down your throat.

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