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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Review

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The personal lives and relationships of celebrities are of great interest to many people these days. From the glossies to tabloids, television to the web, we can access the rumors and breakups and drama --- “drama”? --- whenever we want. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s new novel, THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO, explores that obsession from the point of view of a struggling journalist and the world-famous actress who is giving the journalist her story.

Monique Grant works for Vivant magazine, and she’s not exactly excelling in her position as a staff writer --- or in her life, for that matter. Her husband of a year has recently moved to San Francisco, she’s broke, and though she wants to do well at the magazine, she’s a little stuck. So when Frankie, her editor, calls her into her office to assign her a career-making exclusive, Monique is stunned. The actress Evelyn Hugo, who has been in Hollywood since the 1950s, has specifically requested Monique to write a cover story on her after Evelyn announces she’s putting some of her most famous dresses up for charity auction. Frankie is hesitant to give this to Monique, but Evelyn has been very specific --- it’s Monique or no story for Vivant, which the magazine desperately needs.

"The writing is crisp and easy, and I can honestly say that this is a great beach read, because I read a good portion of it while sitting on a Florida beach."

So Monique heads to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment for the exclusive, infinitely curious about why it had to be her, and how Evelyn even knows who she is. Her life is falling apart, and this assignment is exactly what she needs to try and pull it back together. But things aren’t exactly as they seem. Upon arrival and meeting the 79-year-old icon, Evelyn tells Monique she does not intend to do a story for Vivant and wants Monique to write her biography. The caveat is that Monique is not allowed to sell or publish the book until after Evelyn dies. Evelyn is in perfect health, so this is a big risk. But Monique decides to do it and eventually uses her position to get Evelyn to agree to a cover for the magazine. And with that, Evelyn begins to tell her story.

Evelyn Hugo, nee Evelyn Herrera, is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and was born in Hell’s Kitchen in the late 1930s. Her mother dies of pneumonia when she is 11, her father is an abusive man, and Evelyn’s goal after the death of her mother is to get out of Hell’s Kitchen and away from her father. She develops early, and after some time of unwanted sexual attention and encounters from men, she learns she can use her sexuality to get what she wants. When a friend tells her of a man who is moving to Hollywood to become a grip in the pictures, a 14-year-old Evelyn presents herself as 16 and marries her first husband, thus gaining a ticket to Hollywood. A few years later, she has a deal with Sunset Pictures, a remade identity, blonde hair and a divorce.

But the real story is who the love of Evelyn’s life is. It turns out not to be any of her husbands, and though the identity of her love is revealed relatively early in the book, I will refrain from giving too much away. THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO is much more than it appears on the surface. It reveals how calculated so much of Evelyn’s life was --- and that she was the one doing the calculating to protect her career and the people she loves --- and begs the question: How much of what we see in the media regarding the lives of celebrities is a manipulation? Evelyn, it turns out, is much more than a pretty face and a pair of breasts, which is what gets her the most attention. The book also takes a deep look at how homosexuality was viewed through the mid-century, from mentions of Rock Hudson to the Stonewall Riots, and how scandalous and dangerous it was to be openly gay.

There are a lot of layers in THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO. At nearly 400 pages the novel reads compellingly but drags toward the end. Reid does a wonderful job of distinguishing the voices of her two main characters. The writing is crisp and easy, and I can honestly say that this is a great beach read, because I read a good portion of it while sitting on a Florida beach.

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman on June 16, 2017

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
by Taylor Jenkins Reid

  • Publication Date: June 13, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1501139231
  • ISBN-13: 9781501139239