*There is a small spoiler in this review. It is something that is revealed early in the story and in no way will change the compelling nature of the read, but it is not something that you’d assume from the title or the inside cover blurb, so I want to be transparent about it, just in case.*
Poor Ernie Diaz. Goddamn Don Adler. Gullible Mick Riva. Clever Rex North. Brilliant, Kindhearted, Tortured Harry Cameron. Disappointing Max Girard. Agreeable Robert Jamison.
“As you’d likely guess from the title, this is the story of Evelyn Hugo, a Hollywood glamour queen and sex symbol who raised herself from nothing to the height of movie-making stardom in 1950s-80s Hollywood. And, of course, this is the story of her seven husbands. I mean that alone would have made an entertaining and compelling read, like tabloids but with better writing. But on top of that, it was just so much deeper than I was expecting it to be. The LGBTQ+ rights and stigmas that were explored, as well as (in particular) the exploration of a bisexual main character, was new and refreshing. And although I do wish more mainstream novels would include or write about characters like this, because everyone deserves to read a book where they can see themselves reflected [well] in the heroes and heroines, this was a start. And it is getting better a little bit at a time. As a caveat, I do not necessarily identify as bisexual (and I do not know if the author does or not), so I’m sure there are ways that Evelyn was not written completely truthfully, but it’s still a type of character I have never experienced at the forefront of a major novel like this before. And the exposure, of Evelyn as a person just like everyone else, making choices and making mistakes, is important. In addition, reading the experience, even a fictional one, of what it may have been like to be in Evelyn’s shoes in those years, is eye-opening. Better to be out there in a fictional way than not at all. This is particularly true because, even though these are technically fictional characters and situations, there can be no doubt that real people who lived faced these same situations and challenges. That goes for the rest of the controversial topics touched on here as well, including other LGBTQ+ relationships, interracial relationships, intimate partner violence, the price of fame, what actually makes a family, and the “scandal” of women taking charge of their own bodies, sexual pleasure, and futures. Plus, since none of that was indicated, at all, in the title or description, my guess is a lot of people picked up this book who wouldn’t necessarily have done so had they known about those aspects of the story. That’s a little sneaky and I love it. Overall, this was just a fascinating and “unputdownable” read.
There are some other really impressive parts of this story as well. For example, this was really so well done that even though I knew that the characters and movies were fictional, a few times I found myself pulling out my phone to Google everything for more information. It was that real. I also really enjoyed the format – it’s perfect for the subject matter and plot to have the articles, tabloids, blog posts and comments, etc. sprinkled in. They were a very appropriate plot device for this story and worked fabulously at quickly moving the plot forwards. I also loved the section headers and the way the story was split by husband. Great way to section and pace things out. Plus, some chapters have some different presentation styles that really worked. For example, the pain of retelling and attempt to distance herself from the events, that we get while reading the way Evelyn speaks about her time with Riva, was inconsistent with the style of the rest of the book, but more meaningful for it. Also, the suspense of the reveal about the connection between Monique and Evelyn was written, hidden, and timed very well. Maybe I was less observant than normal during this read, but I definitely didn’t guess what it was.
My biggest critique was of the narrator/interviewer, Monique, and her relationship with Evelyn in the present day. I feel like Evelyn was incredibly fully developed and multifaceted, always acting and speaking true to her personality. Monique, on the other hand, was just super flat for me, more plot device than real character. For being the age and from the background that she was, she was really immature and insensitive. And though Evelyn “helped” her come out of her shell a little bit and act with more self-confidence and strength, she still just seemed too shallowly written to be a real person. Her inner thoughts were all simplistic or obvious and honestly there was just so much apologizing and “foot in mouth,” even way before things got personal (at which point emotional reactions make more sense). For a journalist, you’d think she would have learned to better control her reactions.
Bottom line moral of the story, no one is completely good or completely bad. Life is full of difficult decisions and complex situations and that’s what this book is about. But it’s all wrapped up in the beautiful packaging of glamorous early Hollywood that draws you in for completely different reasons and then smashes all your pre-expectations while still delivering everything you wanted and more. I super recommend this novel.”