At long last, Valley of the Dolls

Even though the book club read this one with lightening speed, It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to write this post. But without further ado, I will post something about our last read.

We wandered over to the smut isle for this pick. Not considered a feminist classic, not even considered a classic (well, maybe a cult-classic), Valley of the Dolls still likely made important contributions to both shaping and demolishing the feminine mystique.

VOD was written by Jacqueline Susann and published in 1966. It chronicles the rise to fame and quick, inevitable, downward spiral of three women – Anne, Jennifer and Neely.   There’s never a dull moment as these three crazy ladies fuck and drug their way to the top.  Although, with a plot twist every 5 pages,  you are so fatigued at the end by their antics that you wish they would all just OD and get it over with.  And yet remarkably, even though at the height of her drug use, Neely is taking something like 35 tablets of valum per hour, she is still alive and breathing at the end of the book.  That is as much as I’ll say about the fate of these women. There are very few reasons to read this book besides plot, so I wouldn’t want to ruin that for you.

It’s a fun read — fascinating as a cultural relic, shocking and funny in some of the same ways Mad Men is (though no where near as well written). My mother says every young woman had a copy of it stashed in her nightstand drawer, although she believes that Peyton Place (1956), which preceeded VOD, was an even more scandalous and ground-breaking novel for its time.

Like I said, VOD could never be considered a feminist work, but it did tell the stories of three women who weren’t content to make casseroles and tend to the children – who were ultimately, on existential journeys. They wanted to be somebody famous, but ultimately they just wanted to be somebody. And amazingly, that was still a radical notion for a woman to act on in 1966.


There was a pretty bad movie made from the book that starred Sharon Tate and Patty Duke, it’s fun to watch for about 45 minutes

and some kind of parody that I haven’t seen

2 Responses to “At long last, Valley of the Dolls”

  1. 1 Justin
    January 23, 2010 at 3:19 am

    Having read the book, and taken in the horrible “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” movie (which has nothing at all to do with the novel btw), I’ve got to concur with your commentary for sure. If you can, avoid BTVOD at all costs. Despite the novelty of Roger Ebert’s (another reason to discount his filmic perspective) co-writer credit, it’s a mammary-obsessed, and slightly pornographic/deranged Josie and the Pussycats (on Quaaludes).

    In a related aside, my own mother described her relationship with /the/ VOD. One xmas holiday afternoon in the Detroit suburbs, my mom and her gang of gals stole what they assumed were wrapped presents from a neighbor’s porch. Among the “gifts” (books wrapped to look like a whole lot ‘o loot) was, you guessed it, VOD. I wonder if she still has that 🙂

  2. 2 thetigressreader
    January 27, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    As much as this book doesn’t fit into a classic feminist narrative, I do think it is feminist. First, it is an extremely popular book written for women by a woman with strong female characters. Although these characters are, shall we say, colorful, they know what they want and go for it. Fame? Check. Sex? Check. Drugs? Oh, yeah. And, they encounter realistic obstacles for women in the sixties. VoD isn’t trying to make anyone think being a star is an easy ride, or being a makeup model for that matter. Significant, because a lot of what we see about fame and fortune (both now and in the ’60s), is what we see about most women’s lives lived in public: You can do it all! Be a mom, be a star, make the cocktiails.

    I know, I know, the end is troubling. The lesson might be “Ladies, if you don’t stay in your husband’s arms, check yourself into the loony bin”, but I also think you could read it as, “Ladies, this sh** is messed up: these three all met a terrible fate because our world doesn’t support ladies livin’ large”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

January 2010
« Dec   Feb »

%d bloggers like this: