This pandemic has made everything hard, including reading. Something that I love to do, but somehow didn’t want to concentrate that hard to do … until I got a Kindle. This is not an ad. But the times we are living in have encouraged a few bigger-than usual purchases. Since I haven’t been spending my money elsewhere (or anywhere), one of those purchases was a Kindle. It has seemed easier for me to read some titles on this device for a few reasons. First, I am not clogging my already overstuffed bookshelves, or adding to my seemingly endless to-read stack. Only I know how many unread titles I have on the Kindle. Second, I can buy more pulpy, fun reads with zero guilt, as their pop-lit covers won’t mar the afore-mentioned shelves. Third, if I like the title I have just read I can immediately download the next in the series or another book by the author. Instant gratification.
A friend was reminiscing on Facebook recently about Jacqueline Susann novels. I remembered seeing two of the so-bad-they’re-good movies on cable years ago, but had I ever read the novels? Well, thanks to Kindle I can. I read her three most famous novels in reverse chronological order, starting with Once Is Not Enough. I vaguely remembered the movie starring Deborah Raffin as the heroine January (!) She was a young woman with daddy issues who has a Freudian affair with an older man, played by David Janssen – with zero chemistry and sex appeal. Maybe he read the book and didn’t like the author’s emasculating take on his character. Susann piles on the drama, with January overcoming a terrible motorcycle accident that takes her years to recover from, drug addiction, and even virginity. The most sympathetic and interesting character in the book is Karla, a lesbian (maybe actually bi) famous movie actress. Susann tells her story in flashbacks, from WW2 atrocities to fame and fortune in Hollywood. Karla is loosely based on Greta Garbo. Part of the charm and fun of Susann’s books are her thinly disguised characters based on larger-than-life celebrities. Once Is Not Enough ends in a strange and perplexing way that I wasn’t prepared for – the movie completely skipped Susann’s crazy plot turns and stayed with the January as triumphant city gal narrative.
From Electra complex to Narcissus. My next read was The Love Machine. Here Susann tries to tell the story (sort of) from a man’s point of view, although a few of his main squeezes get to chime in with chapters of their own. The Love Machine is a mess. The hero, Robin Stone, is a total jerk. Every woman he meets and even every man is overly impressed by him. But the dude has absolutely no personality and is rude and downright mean to all of the above. If there weren’t the chapters featuring the ladies I would have quit on this one. Another implausible and unearned ending here, too. But it was a fast read and I did enjoy the Mad Men-esque depiction of the sixties world of television in Manhattan.
I saved the most well-known book for last, Valley of the Dolls. The movie with Patty Duke, Sharon Tate and Barbara Parkins is so indelible that it is hard to imagine Susann’s trio as anyone else while reading the book. As much as it was a fast and fun read, it really wasn’t as good as Once Is Not Enough. Susann puts Neely, Jennifer and Anne though all the racy topics of the day – plastic surgery, lesbianism, terminal disease, drug addiction. Again, the male objects of their affection are pretty boring or just unpleasant dudes, but Susann’s heroines are constantly obsessing about getting, keeping, losing their men. In fact, after plowing through these three books I was struck by the schizophrenic nature of Susann’s characters. On the one hand she writes openly about subjects that had to be extremely taboo for their day – homosexuality, drugs, women with careers. She even has a trans character in The Love Machine. But on the other hand Susann seems pretty conservative. Her heroines all pine for their men, putting up with tons of bad behavior. They stay in bad relationships just because the guy is rich or so they can dine at “21” every night. Without a man in their lives their careers go downhill. What started out as escapist fun, reading Susann’s bestsellers, ended as a sad peek into lives that were only glamorous on the surface. The girls ended up being as boring and empty as their men.