“Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid was not the book I expected to be at all. I thought I was going to be reading a chronological sequence of the trials and tribulations of the Hollywood star’s marriages. What I ended up with, though, was a story of manipulation and deceit that has completely made me rethink not only Hollywood marriages but also the lives of individuals in the LGBTQ community.
The novel’s protagonist, Evelyn Hugo, is the daughter of Cuban immigrants who moved to New York and was raised in poverty. After her mother died, teen Evelyn slept her way to Hollywood where she continued to use her body and wits for stardom. Her heritage, her appearance, her relationships, her sexual identity: all were sacrificed so that she could make a name for herself.
Evelyn’s story is told through a series of interviews with Monique, a journalist whom Evelyn recruited to write and publish her memoirs after she dies. This second plot, the mysterious connection between Evelyn and Monique, interjects Evelyn’s story; their common themes draw out the similarities in the characters’ personalities and, as the novel progresses, the relationship between the two becomes stronger and stronger.
After reading the first few chapters, I wanted to put the book down and walk away. I didn’t love the word choice or the voice; when told from Monique’s perspective, the short and simple sentences reminded me of a thirteen year old’s writing (and I read enough of that at school). But Evelyn’s story, told from Evelyn’s point of view, quickly captivated me. I could have done with less sexuality but it is that part of the story that makes Evelyn’s character seem real. Promoting herself in Hollywood by changing her name and her appearance to forging relationships and marriages, all while hiding her identity as a bisexual, has made me completely rethink the lives of Hollywood starts like Marilyn Munro, Elizabeth Taylor and Burt Lancaster. At what lengths did the actors and actresses from the early Hollywood days go to hide their true selves so that they could get ahead? The story left me thinking about the LGBTQ community and the steps that, over the years, many must have taken to hide their identities so that they could have friendships, relationships, find jobs and establish their own reputations.
This book is considered a “beach read” or “chick lit” but its messages about our society make it so much more. A good book doesn’t just tell a story. It makes the reader think. It makes them question. It makes them wonder. “Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” unexpectedly did all of these for me; it was definitely worth the read.