Jacqueline Susann's Shadow of the Dolls
by Rae Lawrence
Published by Crown
305 pages, 2001
Buy it online
Shadow of the Author
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
I was all of 13 when I first read Valley of the Dolls. Jacqueline Susann's novel had already been a blockbuster for 10 summers before I got my sweaty, adolescent mitts on an illicit (in my house), dog-eared copy that had made the rounds of all my friends. In retrospect, none of our little group really had much inkling of what was going on in Valley of the Dolls: it was all so foreign to us, it might as well have taken place on the moon. New York City. Drugs. Money. And sex. And sex. And sex.
To me, Valley of the Dolls was fairly incomprehensible, but it was absolutely delicious. Though a lot of the concepts were over my head, the writing was uncomplicated enough that it could be read without a dictionary. Even the things I didn't understand were filled with promise: You just knew that, at the point in your life when did get what was going on, things would be a lot more interesting.
A lot has happened in the world since Jacqueline Susann created her blockbuster in 1966. The sexual revolution. Souped-up STDs. The Gulf War. The Internet. We're just not the babies we were at the middle of the last century: We don't shock as easily and the concept of drugs and the word "fuck" in print hardly make us blink. The innocence of a culture is largely what made Valley of the Dolls work in the first place. Now barely even racy, in its day Susann's book broke trash barriers everywhere it was published.
Add to our generally jaded attitudes the fact that the author died in 1974 and you have a fairly tough order for a sequel. On the other hand, the franchise had to have been irresistible. So well known even those that haven't read the book know the title and a bit of the story line over three decades after the book was published.
Enter Rae Lawrence. Author of the New York Times bestseller Satisfaction, Lawrence adapted a draft for a sequel to Valley that Susann worked on before her death. Lawrence's version begins in the late 1980s and ends in 2001. And, miraculously, as Shadow of the Dolls begins, the characters have only aged 10 years. The balance of the book, however, is true in spirit to Susann's work and original characters. Even Susann's quirky and sometimes over-the-top humor has been eerily cloned.
In Shadow of the Dolls we again meet Neely O'Hara, out of rehab and trying to get what was a fabulous career back on track. Anne and Lyon have been enjoying a rocky marriage. It gets a little too rocky for Anne when the 1989 stock market crash hits and her manicure fund is seriously threatened. Anne takes her mink, her daughter and heads for the Hamptons. No, really.
There are plenty of new characters in Shadow, as well. All sorts of lovers for the three we remember, as well as enough teenaged children to go around.
As well as the humor, Lawrence has cloned the essential emptiness of Susann's characters. Some of the poignancy derives from the nonjudgmental way she tells her story. This touching mother and child scene between Anne and her daughter Jenn is a good example:
"Mom? Are you awake?"
Lawrence's dialog is clear and leading, it floats the book along quickly and keeps you turning pages. Shadow of the Dolls is not a literary triumph. It will not win awards (though a TV movie wouldn't surprise me) or gain a place of immortality among the great literature of the world. It's like a decadent dessert that you can't stop eating. The more you shovel into your face, the more you know you should stop and, so, the more you continue to shovel. Or maybe it's more like ice cream. A whole lot of ice cream. Because at least then you can tell yourself it's made with milk. | August 2001
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.