In an effort to write something on a consistent basis, I'm writing about the latest book I finished, Valley of the Dolls. (Yes, my life is so boring that I am resulting to writing about the lives of fictional characters...) If you haven't read it, then stop now...
The book is all about the 3 "friends" and their relationships, both with people, themselves and their "dolls" (aka the drugs that make them function).
Jennifer begins using because she has trouble sleeping due to the overwhelming demands of supporting her mother, as well as never being able to realize her life's dream of being a mother herself. In the end, she kills herself because she believes no one loves her for more than her body, and finding out she has breast cancer, she will lose her perfect figure.
Neely is a young energetic girl with a lot of talent and uses her friendship with Anne to get a role on Broadway that eventually leads her to big success in Hollywood. She uses the "dolls" to lose weight and to sleep, becoming so dependent on them that she is never able to kick her habits.
Anne is a girl who moves from a small town in Massachusetts to Manhattan in hopes of changing her life. She becomes a successful model but goes through her most of her life pining for her old boss/ex-lover, Lyon. She never uses the "dolls" to get her through life, until she finally marries Lyon and has a child, but has to resort to the drugs in order to escape the reality that Lyon is having affairs.
To start off with, I really liked this book until the end. It has a very negative, yet realistic, outlook on life. Jennifer kills herself to avoid dealing with the loss of the only thing she thinks she has going for her; Neely becomes a monster because its easier than admitting her unhappiness; Anne stays in a bad relationship because it is what she always wanted, even if it isn't exactly what she thought it would be. No one ends up happy and, while everyone achieved success, none of them ended up happy. Jennifer is the closest, but when she finds out she has breast cancer, she gives up because she doesn't think she has anything going for her. Neely becomes extremely famous, but she doesn't know how to handle the fame, so she loses everyone and gains nothing. Anne has the best chance out of the three, but she decides to stay with Lyon because their relationship is what she wanted for so many years.
All three of these women's lives are examples of what happens to women in the real world all the time. While it may no be as obvious or with as many pills, it is something that we can see in everyday life, which is sad to me. I hate the idea that some women settle for men who cheat on them, but they stay because its easy or because they don't think they deserve better. I hate that there are women out there who will end their lives because they believe the only thing they have going for them is their looks and if they don't have that, they are worth nothing. I hate that there are women out there who get power out of genuine ability and talent, but then throw away everything in order to hang onto that little bit of power. The worst part about hating this is that there is really no way to change it. If this book, published in 1966, can chronicle the lives of these women, and that it is still relevant to women today, then how do we change it? How do we make it better?
The one thing I will say is that the book doesn't make any attempts to overtly blame society. It's written in such a way to show that each of these women made individual choices that shaped their lives. Even though it's easy to say that Jennifer's boyfriend's comments about his love for her breasts cause her to believe that he only loves her for her looks, it is also evident that Jennifer did not believe she was strong enough to fight the disease and find herself in a completely new way. Neely's choices are based a lot on the pressure of her profession but she never also overdoes everything and makes bad decisions. She attempts to take the easy way out and ends up making everything harder. Anne moves to a new place to get out of a trap that she has seen her mother and grandmother and everyone else from her little town fall into, only to fall into it herself. While a lot of the problems these women face can be placed on society, I really think that the individual responsibility is written underneath the surface.
The last thing I will say I enjoyed about this book is how all the women are taking the easy road out rather than putting in the work that will make them happier in the end. Anne stays with Lyon, knowing that she will love him less and less as time goes on, but she believes she cannot live without him and she doesn't want to live without him. It would be harder for her to leave him but, in the long run, she would be happier. Or at the very least, she would not be left in a bad marriage. Jennifer can't stand the idea of living without her beauty, so she ends her life. If she had lived, she would have had to find out who she was beneath her beauty and she would have to show that to the world, instead of her breasts. Neely falls into the same cycle continuously because she does not want to put in the actual work it would take to make her career work solely on her talent. She relies on the pills and, even when given the chance, she is unable to give them up.
In the end, I really do like the book. It's easy to read and it's got a good plot, so it keeps you going. I don't think it's the best book I've ever read, but it is definitely worth a read, if for no other reason than to be able to understand all of the random references to it.