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Climbing Mount Everest

January 23, 2009

Drew Barrymore’s sartorial wink and a nod to the Valley of the Dolls at the Golden Globes last week made me realize it’s a good time to talk about that literary gem. I finally got around to reading it recently. Now, I see what all the fuss is about.

Valley of the Dolls
is loaded – with sex (and more sex), celebrity, and of course, all those dolls (for those of you who are still wondering – dolls are pills) – all chewed up and spit out by the sacrificial beast of Hollywood. Upton Sinclair, it’s not – nor does it even try to fake it – it’s just true chick-lit all in its delicious glory. All those authors out there with their cotton-candy pink-hued book jacket covers could learn a thing or two from Jacqueline Susann about how to write a timeless piece of fiction. A piece of fiction so great you fly through it over a weekend (preferably a weekend where you’ve stocked up on a couple bottles of wine to compliment the reading – dolls optional).

Published more than forty years ago in 1966, the story could just as well be ripped from today’s headlines. Bright eyed, naïve, it-girls du jour with great looks but questionable talent and their 15-minutes of fame clock ticking so loudly it’s deafening.  Susann’s trio of girls get caught up in the glitz and glamour with some tragic results – but through it all, they have each other…not unlike the Carrie Bradshaw set.

Which leads me to talk about post Valley of the Dolls chick-lit. Here I thought this literary genre had peaked around the time of Bridget Jones’s Diary, but alas, I’m mistaken. Today’s chick-lit follows the Jones’s Diary formula of best selling book adapted into box office success – much like Valley of the Dolls, which was first a book, then a movie, then remade for television.

Sex and the City
followed a similar mold – with a book first published in 1997, then the TV series in June of 1998, then all the way to the big screen in 2008.  Many have imitated that successful blueprint including The Devil Wears Prada, In Her Shoes, and now, the soon-to-be-released, Confessions of a Shopaholic (sidenote – bummer timing what with the recession and all Touchstone Pictures).

But, I (as I often do) digress – let’s return to where it all began…give a shout out to the originals, the true trashy classics written by visionaries who tapped into the mid-sixties unspoken cultural craving for taboos to come out of the shadows and for an escape from the everyday. They knew they weren’t writing Pulitzer Prize-worthy prose; they were just giving their readership what they wanted.

Susann paved the way for many an author and moviemaker to take that same path…an escape from the everyday. And a million thanks to Drew Barrymore, for showing us how Susann’s characters might have looked walking the red carpet in a boozy, pill-induced stupor.

Suggested reading – Peyton Place