“You’ve got to climb to the top of Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls.”
What makes a book a classic? Does it need intense plots that keep you on the edge of your seat? Are multidimensional characters required? Must it sprout eloquent prose that enlivens your senses?
No, because if it did Valley of the Dolls would not have sold over 30 million copies. That’s a huge number for a trash novel no publisher wanted to touch, and yet this gem has the staying power of remaining in print after 46 years. How could it be that such a piece of garbage, that so many felt never should have been published, won over the masses? Doesn’t this sound a little like another newly famous run-away bestseller that also turned the publishing world on its ear? Yep, I’ll say it. The ground Valley of the Dolls broke paved the way for the success of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Let’s dive deeper into this little gem of a trash novel and see what makes it a classic.
Hmm…Valley of the Dolls! It’s cliché. It’s hackneyed. And it’s important because glitter, glamour, fame, and self-destruction add up to the most brilliant piece of rubbish you will ever read!
The cliché plot: A small town girl escapes to the big city where she befriends two kindred spirits. The three of them hit the heights of fame while on a path to self-destruction and being awesomely catty! Catfights make for fun reading.
The stereotypical characters: Anne, a secretary who turns into the face of a large cosmetics company while having a troubled relationship with a man who turns the heads of too many. Neely, a star whose career (along with her temper and dependence on “dolls”) becomes larger than life. Jennifer, a maternal showgirl who only gains attention because of her body and turns to making “art films” for money to support her child as well as her addiction. Who doesn’t like to read about the scandalous?
The cultural legacy: Valley of the Dolls spawned a major motion picture, a BBC radio series, a TV mini-series, and a TV series. Currently there are talks of it returning to television for yet another version. The book even influenced numerous pop culture references, including a 1970 film modernization, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, written by Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer. This parody was as titillating as the novel from which it spawned and included a deranged music producer who sports prosthetic breast. “Z-Man? There is no Z-Man, varlet. And indeed, it’s not a game we play. I am Superwoman!” Seriously, how outrageous is that?
The bitter reality: Susann based her story and characters on people she met while working in Hollywood in the 1940’s, thus not imitating, but exposing Hollywood. Americans love wealth, fame, and beauty. This book drives it all home. A woman who is willing to sleep away part of her life to wake up thinner? How awesomely horrific does that sound?
The gritty meaning: Women are vain bitches. Men are vain assholes. It’s a bitter little pill of reality.
If a classic can be defined by a ground breaking novel that is filled with scandal, spawns outrageousness, exposes us to our own bitter reality, and is a fun read while influencing pop culture and having a staying power that spans generations, then Valley of the Dolls is about as classic as you can get. Let’s face it; Jacqueline Susann was a writer for our times that will be looked back on as a fictional historian for her faux portrayals of real people.
In other words, a classic is what grips you and holds. It breaks ground, and gives you something to chew, even if it is just bubblegum.
Don’t go into Valley of the Dolls while siting on the beach and sipping white wine. Dive in hard and fast while lying poolside, sporting a stylish bikini and a ton of sparkly jewelry. Remember your sunscreen, large sunglasses, and titanic-sized hat. And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget that cocktail! That way you can blame the brain cell loss on the booze and not have to admit what you spent your time reading. No matter how much you hate it, I can guarantee a part of you will love it! And that is what makes a classic.
“Give me back my hair, you little bitch,” Helen yelled. “It cost me three hundred bucks!”