Sunday Jul 14

valley_of_the_dolls.large Valley of the Dolls
by Jacqueline Susann
448 pp.
Grove Press, 6th edition, 1997.  ISBN 978-0802135193 $14.00
Reviewed by Sunday Avery

Valley of the Dolls Is So White Hot, It Singed My Fake Eyelashes: Sunday Revisits the Pulp Classics.

If you’ve got a tabloid-finding radar in a dentist office, or if you’ve ever gotten a pedicure in one of those bubbly foot chairs, you’re ready to become a full-woman and read Valley of the Dolls. All of your suburban life before was wasteful tedium. It’s time for drastic drug-induced weight loss, mental institutions, a short-lived career in the soft porn industry, and most importantly: fame.

Of course Valley of the Dolls is the best book ever. Jacqueline Susann must have been writing on a diet of her own “dolls,” a cocktail of multi-colored uppers and downers. From start to finish, the book is an outrageous tour of three women’s careers in the most lucrative female industry: entertainment. You’ve got the unstable darling Neely O’Hara, the big bosomed beauty Jennifer North, and the goody goody small town hottie, Anne Wells. Real life starlets like Judy Garland (Neely), Carol Landis and Marilyn Monroe (Jennifer), and Ethel Merman (Helen Lawson) inspired the events and characters of the book. The effect is like watching a highlight reel of mental breakdowns and overdoses after eating a bag of Ho Ho’s and some crack. Whatever, no big.

As messy as the plot is (it’s a big run on sentence, really) the power of camp makes Valley of the Dolls so deliciously readable. Susann takes as many opportunities as possible to make you snap your fingers and say “Oh no she didn’t,” which is a weird and wonderful thing for an author to attempt. The shamelessness of Valley also keeps the book from feeling too much like taking a downer “Red Doll”. When you think about it, the truth is awful and inappropriate. The reality is that the crap starlet lifestyle has led to the tragic deaths of real-life Garland, Landis, and Monroe. But the extreme excess of real events like abortions, overdoses, extra-marital affairs, and even cunnilingus make “Valley” a camp treasure that could charm even the most PC of readers.

Truly, Valley of the Dolls is the Grand Guru in the “so bad it’s good” category. Jacqueline Susann was inspired by her own experiences in the 1940s as a struggling actress with sapphic tendencies. One has to wonder if she got into any social trouble revealing diva personalities and loosey-goosey morals. The best story I’ve heard about Valley was that crooner Tony Polar (stuck with a child’s mentality) was based on Dean Martin, after Susann tried to interview Dean and he was too focused on a comic book to listen. OUCH. Seriously, WOAH.

You’d have to be a persnickety nark with a lactose intolerance to hate Valley of the Dolls.  In fact, it’s practically un-American to dislike something as over-the-top as Valley: it’s like hating a big stack of pancakes covered in whip cream and chocolate chips and blueberries.  So I guess there’s nothing to stop you from reading (and adoring) Valley of the Dolls except the threat of deportation, am I right?

X’s and O’s and little yellow pills,

Sunday_Avery Sunday Avery reads many books and is a very judgmental person. She requires that everyone read Shirley Jackson and at least a hundred other authors. She lives in San Jose and brings a lot of people to tears, especially her cat and husband.