Taylor Jenkins Reid’s ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ is a Model of Literary Inclusivity

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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo Book Cover The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Historical Fiction
Atria Books
June 13, 2017
E-Book
391

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon 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 is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

“Heartbreaking, yet beautiful” (Jamie Blynn, Us Weekly), The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is “Tinseltown drama at its finest” (Redbook): a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it costs—to face the truth.

“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.” — Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husband’s of Evelyn Hugo grants us center stage view into the life of the fictional Evelyn Hugo, a movie star who rose from nothing to eventually rank among some of Hollywood’s greatest names in film.

Monique Grant, a writer for the magazine Avant, is one day pulled aside by her boss Frankie and is informed that Evelyn Hugo, revered movie star and Oscar winner, has handpicked her to write a piece on her.

Though completely taken by surprise and still not entirely sure that she’s the best person for the job, Monique heads over to Evelyn’s place in New York, meets with her, and soon begins to realize the force of nature that Evelyn Hugo is. She learns that Evelyn isn’t really interested in doing a piece for the magazine, she actually wants Evelyn to write her biography.

As Evelyn begins to recount her long career, her fierce, grab-life-by-the-horns attitude is revealed. With her mother dead when Evelyn was just 14 and growing up with an abusive father, Evelyn jumps at the first chance she gets to escape a life that promises nothing but misery. So she lands her first husband, a lighting tech who works in Hollywood. Evelyn sees her chance at putting her foot in the door and starting an acting career. Fearless and sometimes even without scruples, Evelyn climbs the ladder, using people as she needs to to get what she wants. Thus, she moves from husband to husband, some whom she married out of convenience, fewer out of love; her star, however, always steadily rising.

During this time, Monique comes to learn a few life lessons from Evelyn. Mainly that to get where she wants she has to take what she wants and stop waiting for anyone to give it to her. Monique then begins to assert herself, in her job, and even in her marriage which is far from salvaging.

But just as Evelyn begins to grow on Monique, she reveals a tragic secret that connects both their pasts and could potentially turn Monique against her.

Though the narrative sometimes felt a bit rushed, and though maybe a couple of Evelyn’s husbands felt a little irrelevant to the story (perhaps just existing to add numbers to her history of husbands), The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is entertaining from beginning to end.

Evelyn’s character is absorbing, calculating but also admirable. I’m always pleased to find a female protagonist who quite literally gives no fucks about what people think of her. It’s refreshing to read about a woman, even if she’s fictional, who burns whatever path she needs to as long as it means achieving her goals. Evelyn is a symbol of strength, not just for her art but as well for expressing her sexuality in ways many women would never dare to due to societal constraints.

At every moment, Evelyn steals the spotlight, bringing Monique nearly down to side character status. Monique’s life, in itself, isn’t very interesting. She’s currently split up from her husband with Evelyn coaxing her to find the power to break it off for good and begin divorce proceedings. However, this drama extends for about a total of two scenes which at times feel intrusive. There just isn’t enough in the narrative to make us care for Monique’s story. So we trudge through the bits that talk about her life, simply waiting to get back to Evelyn’s story.

The twist, or supposed shocking secret that Evelyn reveals to Monique, is actually not that much of a shock. Throughout the story, Reid builds up the crescendo leading up to this big revelation, and when it does come, the reader is left empty and wondering, “Is that it?”

It’s supposed to be this dark and tragic secret, but it’s hard to feel invested in it because Evelyn and Monique barely know each other. Not to mention, Evelyn has such disregard for what people think of her that it almost doesn’t even matter at all. The plot twist ends up seeming like a gimmick just to create a deeper connection between the two main characters. If you ask me, I would’ve been happy reading about a journalist who writes a piece on a famous Hollywood star without the added twist.

Nevertheless, the reveal neither adds nor takes anything from the story since the real heart of it lies with Evelyn serving as a female icon of strength, perseverance and determination. Evelyn is inspirational in that she doesn’t take no for an answer and in that her biggest strength is also her biggest flaw. But she moves through Hollywood taking what she knows she deserves and stopping to accommodate no one.

Evelyn is also one of the very few Latinx protagonists. This makes her even more fascinating to me. The story never forgets to delve into this part of her story — the racism she experiences as Hollywood tries to erase her Latinidad by making her a platinum blonde and changing her name.

Topics of sexuality and racism are also touched upon, making it an all-around diverse and inclusive book that shines a light on topics readers are more than eager to read about.

Maria

A self-proclaimed hermit and potential cat hoarder, Maria lives in Virginia where she writes, proofreads and copy edits as a freelancer. Her longstanding love affair with books began when her mother would fall asleep reading bedtime stories to her. (Don't worry; she was sure to wake her up so she could finish.) Now, as an adult, Maria struggles with a reading vice that has often threatened the hygiene of her home. On the few occasions that her nose isn't buried in a book, she enjoys exploring new cities, having margaritas with her sister, and curling up with a book--wait, what?

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