About a year ago, a friend and I lamented that we aren't reading books very much. While I consume a metric ton of fan fiction, I don't have in-person friends who also read fan fiction to be able to talk about what I'm reading. So she and I did some minimal research and found a local ladies book group (through MeetUp) and decided to try it out. We got lucky the first time; it's a good group of intelligent women, the books are things I would never read otherwise (a good thing), and the leader takes it seriously and has questions to prompt discussion when the talk lags. Some books have been good, some meh and only a couple were bombs. My friend has work things that has essentially made her drop out, but I've been going pretty religiously since we joined.
So... once a month, I'll try to remember to tell you about the book I've read and let you know what I think!
This month's book was "The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo" by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The blurb for the book made me immediately think of "Sunset Boulevard" - the aging actress trying to recapture her days as a star. But it's nothing like that.
Evelyn Hugo is a woman who, as an older woman, is telling her life story to a younger woman (Monique Grant), who she has specifically selected. You don't learn why until almost the end of the story. (And I'm not going to spoil that for you.)
Originally, Monique is lured to Evelyn's apartment to write a story for a magazine about some gowns being donated for charity. Evelyn has been a recluse for years, so any access is prized and her editors are kinda annoyed that Monique has been specifically requested, but any story about Evelyn is gold, so they reluctantly send Monique.
Evelyn pretty much immediately tells Monique that she is there to write Evelyn's memoirs, to be published after Evelyn's death. And the magazine is cut out of that. Evelyn's memoirs will be worth millions and Monique is all WTF? but agrees... who is she to pass up the opportunity of a lifetime.
Evelyn is something of a bad-ass, being initially part of the 1950's movie scene, contracted to a studio. She has good husbands and bad husbands and, in the middle of that finds the love of her life. But she makes lots of movies, eventually wins an Oscar and at the end, gets to live her own life.
Turns out Evelyn falls in love with a female co-star, Celia St. James -- and any non-heterosexual relationships are a career death knell for actors/actresses at that time. Evelyn and Celia go through some major ups and downs throughout the story. Celia is firmly gay, although she has some relationships with men, but Evelyn considers herself bi-sexual (evidenced by the seven husbands).
Some of Evelyn's husbands are 'beards' of various sorts. The first two husbands are before Evelyn even meets Celia and realizes her own bisexuality.
Two of Evelyn's later husbands know right up front they are beards. One is a producer friend who is gay, so the two women marry the two men and, in public, they are all 'best friends'. The second, Evelyn's last husband, is Celia's brother who only wants his sister to be happy and is happy to go along with it.
In the end, this is a love story, and nicely done.
When I first started reading the book, it was written in the first-person, present tense. I went "yuk!" but kept reading and soon found I never noticed again. The POV goes from Evelyn to Monique and back, so the tense goes from present to past (there's even some second person 'you' POV, but I never saw it until the questions at the end of the book pointed it out), but it's all seamless and just part of the story telling.
Monique is also going through the end of a marriage as the story unfolds. Working with Evelyn helps her sort out what she wants to do with her marriage.
I didn't see the reason Evelyn requested Monique coming at all. The hints are there, but even in re-reading, they aren't obvious.
And the ending is also warned for, but again, I didn't see that coming.
Several times, reference is made to an article Monique wrote about physician-assisted suicide. At the end, we learn that Evelyn has breast cancer and at the time she's finished telling Monique her story, Evelyn will be committing suicide rather than go through chemo or other treatment. Evelyn is in her 80's at this point, everyone she loves has already died and she's alone. Monique realizes this at the end, and allows Evelyn her death-with-dignity.
As usual with this group, not a book I would have picked up on my own. But it is a book I would recommend to others.
Warnings: Huh. Now that I'm parsing through it, there is physical (spousal) abuse, infidelity, sexual references, death of an adult child, death of a major character. Of course, popular publishing doesn't warn for any of that, but I'd look twice at a fic with those warnings. But nothing is graphic, and I'll still recommend this.
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