Thursday, May 31, 2018

10. The Best People by Helen Van Slyke

I couldn't resist picking up this book with that amazing cover.  And subject matter intrigued me greatly, a story of an exclusive Park Avenue cooperative.  I thought it was going to be about people trying to get into a snooty apartment and it was, but not quite how I thought.  It's more of a Mad Men vs. housing discrimination when an advertising firm tries to woo a crucial client, a Jewish shoe magnate, by attempting to secure an apartment in this super waspy building.

I love books that describe an enclosed milieu and this one did a solid job of portraying the history of the building, its current residents and the dynamics of the all-important board. You get a strong sense of its clean quiet hallways and explicit description of the many rooms and dimensions.  The disappointment for me is that the protagonists, a super waspy but progressive couple, totally luck into the sick apartment.  Their struggle is to get the apartment for the client and they risk alienating their neighbours, but they already got the place and ultimately do not seem all that threatened.  The book's conclusion, which hinted at some colour with the exiled Austrian noblewoman who harboured a dark secret, ultimately falls back on safe drama. Overall an enjoyable read.  I think this one is going on the shelf for its style alone.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

9. The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

One more decent find from my hospital bookstore discovery.  I am really glad I read this.  At parts, it dragged a bit for me but overall was really entertaining and a great historical read.  The impact of this book has faded somewhat today, but it broke all records when it came out and still pretty high up there on the best seller list with 31 million copies.  I imagine that in the 60s if you were on the subway, everybody would be reading a copy.  People today act like Mad Men was some deep revelatory exploration into show business and advertising in the early 60s but they were all talking about the same shit back then and Valley of the Dolls can really be considered the ur-text for that period.  It is at once commenting on the time but also very much of it.

Sorry I'm rambling because most info about the book, its history, impact and analysis are very much available online.  It's the story of three young women coming to New York and becoming stars.  The dolls are what they name the various pills they all get hooked on to one degree or another.  They are a central element, but more like a background to the stronger narrative about their love lives, their struggles to succeed and ultimately how shitty men are.  Punches are not pulled for women either but wow this book is cynical.  I think ultimately what made me appreciate this book was how dark and hard it was.  Even the main love narrative with the character who is the most solid and makes it to the end mostly unscathed is slowly revealed to be a complete disaster and the man a monster.

I'm psyched for the movie now.