Book review: Valley of the Dolls

Valley of the Dolls
Jacqueline Susann

Valley_of_the_dollsFrom Goodreads: 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 that there is no place left to go but down—into the Valley of the Dolls.

I always judge a book by its cover. It probably doesn’t hurt that I’m a book cover designer by trade.

So when I first picked up Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann, I have to admit I was a little wary. The light pink cover and 1950s font wasn’t a problem, nor were the cutouts of the capsules (the pills lovingly referred to as “dolls”.) What made me almost put it down was the image beneath the cutout of the 3 women. It was a photograph that looked like it belonged as a press image for a TV show. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it did make me wonder why the book didn’t merit a cover that was, well, more book-like. I was totally off base: it’s not a TV show, it’s a movie. A quite famous movie, apparently, but I’m in the dark. Oops. I’m glad Jenny Arnold gave me this book — if she hadn’t, I never would have bought it and that would have been a shame.

The synopsis on the back cover (also above) also doesn’t help this book’s case — it focuses on 3 women who take pills all the time to cope with life and its troubles. I mean … boring. Cue an “Intervention” episode or something.

Well, in reality, the pills do play a role in a running subplot throughout the narrative, but they are hardly a defining role. More like a temperature check: as the plot heats up, the pills at least warrant a mention or two. Sleeping pills, energy pills, red pills, green pills, yellow pills … they all play their part.

But the true story revolves around 3 women who are trying to make it big time during a “Mad Men” era. There are movie actresses when a time that television was threatening the big screen. A secretary who has no desire to be famous but she has the “face for modeling” – and wealthy suitors to match. There are men who are threatened by the idea of a successful woman, who don’t know how or can’t handle their wives making more than they do.

This book features Hollywood drama off the big screen, and during a time when everyone is stepping over each other clamoring to the top, these women are desperately searching for friendships and connections that are real.

Don’t think this book is all friendship and roses, though. Far from it and that’s what I like about it. Its predictable in the sense that right before a plot twist, the foreshadowing would give me just enough to actually say “nooooo” under my breath, just before I watched it unfold. It was so tense at times that I almost wanted to skip ahead a page or two because I couldn’t stand the suspense (I would never, of course).

I struggled as I approached the end both with the inability to put it down and the desire to not be done with the book. I read it faster than I’ve read a lot of other books lately – and it’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It’s deeper than a beach read, but it’s easy and quick to get through, and you’ll find yourself feeling strongly about many of the characters — loving some, hating others, and wanting to take one or two by the shoulders and shake her till the pills fall out.

Overall, I highly recommend!

For the record, I passed this book along to Stacia Caliano after I was finished, and then she and I watched the movie on Netflix. It was a terrible, terrible movie … but that’s another story.

Rating: 5 stars