The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical Fiction / Contemporary
Length: 388 Pages
Release date: June 13, 2017
Blurb via GoodReads:
Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
To say that I loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo would be an understatement. This is one of those books that ends leaving you aching for another page, another chapter.
As far as structure, this book can be divided into three separate categories:
- First person perspective of Monique, who is struggling with the dissolution of her marriage as she interviews Evelyn Hugo, aging Hollywood darling and ex movie star
- First person perspective of Evelyn Hugo as she reveals her life story to Monique
- Newspaper/magazine article asides describing various significant events of Evelyn’s life as seen through the limited perspective of the press
This structure is very effective in calling attention to the wide gap between Evelyn’s reality and the constructed version propped up in the press, where rumors are sometimes reported as fact and vice versa. The Evelyn Hugo that exists in the public’s mind bears little resemblance to the Evelyn Hugo that Monique discovers throughout the story.
The book touches on a variety of social issues; racial issues are at the forefront early in the novel. Struggling to find her footing in Hollywood, Evelyn Hugo is subjected to a whitewashing makeover reminiscent of Rita Hayworth. With bleach blonde hair and a new last name to sweep her Latina heritage under the rug, the studio hopes to make her more palatable to the masses. While this wasn’t explicitly forced upon her, it’s clear to her that her success to dependent on going along with it. She seems to be okay with this at first, realizing only afterwards how taxing this will prove to be, such as when she struggles to determine whether speaking Spanish in front of her Latina maid is worth the risk of exposure.
This need to hide aspects of her identity foreshadows what is easily the main conflict of the novel. Evelyn spends most of her life in love with another woman and hiding it for the sake of her career and reputation. She is a bisexual character who owns the label “bisexual,” something that is strikingly rare in fiction. She is not an “I don’t like labels” bisexual or an “I went through a phase” bisexual (why straight authors feel the need to write such characters I’ll never understand), she is explicitly bisexual and goes so far as to call out another character for failure to use the correct word. “Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box. Don’t do that,” she says.
Throughout her rise to fame, Evelyn struggles to reconcile her shame, not of her identity itself but of her own willingness to hide it for the sake of success, with her sense of understanding that she’d probably do it all over again. She is hungry for fame, success, the adoration of the masses, and yes, money.
Reid has constructed a picture of an intensely realistic, flawed, captivating woman. At moments, it’s easy to feel as if you’re reading the memoir of a flesh and blood person. There are intensely fun passages which can feel like getting the inside scoop on real-life Hollywood royalty, but Evelyn’s unflinching honesty about her own personal demons makes the book so much more than that. This was compulsively readable and completely lovely.
Also by Taylor Jenkins Reid…