Monday, January 7, 2013

Valley of the Dolls

That's the book my discussion group chose for January.  I say say "chose" with tongue firmly in cheek since our selection method leans toward the non-complex.  Anyone with a suggestion tosses it into a latte mug, and from there it's a random pick.  I confess, "VOtD" was my choice, thinking a little retro reading would be fun.  In reality, I have found this book to be one of the saddest I have read in a long time.  Jacqueline Susann's style leaves much to be desired.  For instance, her characters share a common voice in spite of varying backgrounds,  age, social status, or levels of education.  And, they all converse in paragraphs.  No short give and take responses as in normal conversation.  Basically, she wasn't a writer, but rather a theatrical insider who was not afraid to model her characters after real life stars such as Judy Garland, Mary Martin and Ethel Merman.

Despite all that, she created on heck of a sop opera and I'm turing pages real fast trying to get to the next affair, scandal, or moment of hubris.  The book focuses on several New York women, all young and hungry for love, success, fame or all three.  Achieving those goal in the late 1940's seems tricky, especially when society has definite rules and roles for women.  Even Ann, the smartest of the bunch, accepts that she has to connect herself to the right man in order to get ahead.  She may not like it, but that's the way it goes.  Ann tries to fight the system in her small, girlish way, but she doesn't have the tools to break through the network of men who trade up women on a weekly basis, and who have no compunction about commenting on a woman's physical gifts.  No typing skill needed if the sweater if tight enough.

I was stunned at many of the attitudes in this book and and happy that, for the most part, we have learned.  At the very least, words like "fag" and ethnic insults have been driven underground.  Even better, many people have arrived at the realization that we simply can't define people by arbitrary attributes like skin color. 

Dolls - pills.  Lots of pill popping in this book.  I'd like to think that today's entertainment industry is smarter and healthier.  I hope that we all are smarter about drug use and abuse but the headlines prove otherwise. 

Not much good happened to any of the women in "VOtD".  Each one had a bit of fight in her, but their opponents were heartless, and cruel.  How lucky that we live when we do.  Sure, the struggle for equality continues, but there are  many platforms for voices to be heard today.  Each of us has a voice, if we choose to use it properly, and respectfully - and that matters.