” ‘You think from day to day. If you allow yourself to think of the future – any personal future – you lose your nerve. And suddenly you recall all the senseless time-wasting things you’ve done…the wasted minutes you’ll never recover. And you realize that time is the most precious thing. Because time is life. It’s the only thing you can never get back.’ “
A story that spans twenty-two years and takes you from coast-to-coast and across oceans as three young woman live their lives all in the pursuit of happiness. For these three women it is quite easy for them to become friends when you all share youth and a personal struggle in one of the fastest moving cities in the world. The difference is that each one of them have their own story to tell. Valley of the Dolls focuses on their lives in New York city as they go about their day-to-day waiting for their big break and dealing with all internal and external forces that come with it.
Anne Welles fled from her hometown of Lawrenceville, Massachusetts in search of personal freedom and opportunity. Every nineteen-year-old girl from her home town wants to get married to some schmuck that their parents picked out, live an orderly life, and care for their kids. From God to their respective mom’s ears it is the best laid out plan. Anne wants to escape the confines and have freedom to work where she wants to work, love who she wants to love, follow her dreams and not compromise them for anybody. Early on Anne gets what she wants as she is hired on as a secretary at Bellamy & Bellows talent agency, she finds an apartment in the city, and has four successful men clamoring for her attention. At this point, life couldn’t be any better, but she will soon find out that her deeply ingrained small town values could end up hurting her as she settles in the world of glitz and glamour. The differences in personality that people show you is hard to decipher when you take everyone at face value. The mirror has two faces; small city dreams could manifest themselves into a big city reality check if naivete and ego gets in the way. Anne better be careful that what she wished for doesn’t end up biting her in the ass.
“Anne felt sad. People parted, years passed, they met again – and the meeting proved no reunion, offered no warm memories, only the acid knowledge that time had passed and things weren’t as bright or attractive as they had been. She was glad Lyon was in England. She’d hate to run into him like this, to find that his hair has thinned or that the girl he dated was too young, too insipid. It was better to keep a memory intact.”
A young woman from Cleveland named Jennifer North lives in a world overwrought with maternal control. Her mother has a disease called “stagemotheritis” and has presided over her daughter’s life whether she’s directly in it or off in a distant land. Her mother’s voice has haunted her at home, in Spain, in New York, in California, and in France; whispering, begging, asking, pleading for money and for her to watch her weight and push her breasts up because she is not getting any younger. Her physical and ghostly impact has stunted Jennifer’s mental and emotional growth leading to haste lesbian encounters (remember this is the 1940’s), desperation for any sort of love, abortions, drug dependencies and cosmetic surgeries. Her lack of freedom has lead to a pattern of bad decisions directed by outside influences and without council could lead to her demise.
Ethel Agnes O’Neill is a true New Yorker. She is a fighter through and through and wants nothing more than to perform under the lights on Broadway. She is traditionally raised in the theatrical genre of entertainment of Vaudeville with her performance trio known as The Gaucheros. After her group receive their first contract she is kicked aside only to be given a bigger gig as an understudy in the Broadway musical Hit the Sky. Building her reputation through her supreme talents and bedfellows, she realizes that all eyes are on her and her opportunities are endless.
” ‘Yeah, I read all that jazz in Spain, how she suddenly found true love and all. But come on – the Senator was no Rock Hudson. Jen got pretty bored sitting around just being married to Tony, and he was young and gorgeous. Nope, I think she just couldn’t face it. She was getting older, and her looks had to go soon, and she couldn’t settle for just the Senator. So she took a powder.’ “
Life couldn’t be much better for these young ladies, beautiful dolls playing around in a patriarchal environment of diamonds, getaways, mink coats, alcohol, drugs,sex and a lot of money. What we learn is that perception is not always reality when women believe they are treasures in the eyes of men and instead are seen as mere instruments to be played. As time goes on, men leave and women are left with the thoughts of the physical and age-related pressures of the entertainment business in conjunction with societal norms that begin to take hold of their lives. In the end, the hope for something more becomes lost after reaching the pinnacle of personal success.
I hope I am not overstepping any boundaries by saying that this book starts off as a feminists nightmare. My god, for me personally this is a nightmare, a reoccurring episode of The Twilight Zone where the world is your stage and everyone around you is pitted against you. You think you get away from it when you cross state lines only to have it come back two-fold. Reminded me of a movie called Anger Management or a Hitchcock”ian” psychological thriller where it just seems that external forces are controlling your life at every turn.
One of the running jokes throughout the book is Neely not having a man to escort her to the after party, and instead having to rely on the services of a “queer”. This is the lowest of the low for these starlets and a cold hard reality they must endure, and says enough about the signs of the time.
If I was going to relate to these characters and be a tad over-dramatic I would say that this story was very sad and deeply tragic. There are some books where you expect sadness but this wasn’t one of them for me. The female characters are young, beautiful and talented while the male characters are rich and powerful. Not much to really be sympathetic about especially after you are introduced to them and realize that the majority of these characters are absolutely terrible human beings. What’s there to be sad about? Well for me there was this one thing…
” ‘Since everyone seems to be offering unsolicited advice, let me add some of my own. Never judge anyone by another’s opinions. We all have different sides that we show to different people.’
She smiled. ‘You mean that even Hitler could be soft playful with Eva Braun.’
‘Something like that. And King Henry didn’t kill all of his wives. If I recall correctly the last one actually henpecked him.’ “