A novel, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, First Atria Books hardcover edition, June 2017*
“Nobody deserves anything… It’s simply a matter of who’s willing to go and take it for themselves… No one is just a victim or a victor. Everyone is somewhere in between. People who go around casting themselves as one or the other are not only kidding themselves, but they’re also painfully unoriginal.”
The story’s frame is told by a journalist named Monique, who has been summoned to the home of a starlet to write a story about famous dresses worn by a famous woman for a famous charity. But the famous Evelyn Hugo has other plans in store for the unsuspecting journalist: a best selling, tell-all biography that would be the single biggest break of Monique’s career.
Ms. Hugo is quite the personality. By society’s standards, she might not be the most “likable” character, but she is definitely the most authentic. She explains up front in her interview that she has made decisions in her life that have caused others great pain in efforts to obtain her possessions, material or otherwise, but that given her options at the time she would make the same decisions again today. While she has regrets, she doesn’t actually “regret” anything; she thinks of regrets as possessions rather than a state of being or action. Her soul is at peace and feels it is time to set the tabloids straight.
Evelyn tells her story through a series of memories, and its so enthralling that you almost forget about Monique, but when she chimes in to ask questions or make observations you are reminded that Evelyn is a presence in the room and you are sensing the past and the present simultaneously. She tells the stories of her rise to fame, her husbands, her family, her forbidden love, and reflects on her life’s lessons, dropping beautiful bits of wisdom throughout.
One of my favorite wisdom bits was:
“You run towards a world that is moral and just, where the good guys win and the bad guys loose, where the pain you face is only in an effort to make you stronger, so that you can win that much bigger in the end.”
To anyone who has ever questioned why they bother I say, “Ain’t that the truth?”
Evelyn gets burned by a lot of people, but she does her fair share of burning. She talks about the world in a refreshingly candor manner, particularly for the female voice. I believe that, generally speaking, female characters in fiction tend to be written in an emotionally driven way and sometimes mirror some of the gender biases that society is becoming more sensitive to. Evelyn can strategize with the finesse of a military strategist, always landing on her feet and weighing her options to determine if the ends really do justify the means. It was as if a male voice was written into a female body who could keep up with war lords but still be feminine and sexy.
When she said, “It’s always been fascinating to me how things can be simultaneously true and false, how people can be good and bad all in one, how someone can love you in a way that is beautifully selfless while serving themselves ruthlessly”, I knew that I truly adored her. This is a woman that I could sit and talk about life with over a bourbon and fondue. She doesn’t view the world or anything within it as good vs bad, it simply is. We, on varying levels between the individual and the society assign what is good or bad or somewhere in between based on our perceptions of reality through our worldview. Evelyn is the master of separating her reactions from the situation itself in order to accomplish a mission. She simply is. I’m telling y’all, she’s a ninja.
I love it when something other than a character becomes a character. In this case, the author uses tabloids to build a bit of suspense and bend reality. I loved reading what the smutty magazines thought was happening, only to hear Evelyn tell the story of what was really going on and how she manipulated the headlines to her advantage. It was an interesting use of influence, and reminded the reader that you can’t believe everything you read.
“Sometimes, reality comes crashing down on you. Other times, reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.”
This novel is very far outside of my comfort zone. I tend to stick to psychological thrillers, mysteries, and science fiction, but I received this one through a monthly subscription service that I receive. I’ll admit, I had never heard of Taylor Jenkins Reid in any meaningful way and was skeptical of the story because I thought it sounded rather gossipy and trite. I stand publicly corrected and am looking forward to the next books of hers that come my way.
I hope you find Evelyn as alluring as I did. Drop me a note and tell me what you thought.
*Note: this post was not sponsored in any way.